Basketball, wrestling battle rival Mercyhurst

The Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t played each other this many times.

The Michigan and Ohio State university football rivalry games aren’t even close in numbers.

Gannon University and Mercyhurst College basketball teams set the bar as the men’s and women’s squads will meet for the 135th combined time in program history when the Lakers travel downtown to the Hammermill Center on Wednesday to kick off rivalry week.. The women kick things off at 5:30 p.m. while the men take the stage at 7:30. 

On Thursday, one day after the basketball teams take the court, the Gannon University wrestling team will grapple with Mercyhurst at 7 p.m. as the Knights host its third home dual meet of the season.

The drama is heightened as the basketball teams look to establish position in a competitive Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference while the wrestling team aims to gain ground in the national rankings.

“It’s a huge game,” said men’s basketball coach John T. Reilly. “I try to downplay the Mercyhurst aspect but it’s important for us to get back into things in the PSAC and they’re one of the hottest teams in the league, right now.”

The 9-6 men’s basketball team, which sits in seventh place in the PSAC West, brings a two-game conference losing streak into the game and has been on the losing end in three of its past four games.

The Knights should find added energy against the 13-3 Lakers as Gannon has proven nearly unbeatable in the Hammermill Center with an 8-1 record and holds a 45-15 advantage over Mercyhurst. The Knights came out victorious in five of the past six matchups.

Despite dropping two straight games, Gannon enters the contest as key players are hitting midseason stride.

Freshman Stephen Battle earned his third straight PSAC West division freshman of the week award while redshirt freshman Kelvin Agee is coming off a 25-point effort against California (Pa.) University.

Junior guard Steve Piotrowicz has recorded at least one point and one rebound in 28 consecutive games dating back to last season.

Although the Knights have been keeping pace offensively with the Best in the West, according to Reilly it will be their play on the other end that decides the contest against Mercyhurst.

“We’re going to have to play very good defensively,” he said. “It’ll be hard since they have a lot of scorers. We’ll have to play really, really tough.”

The women’s basketball team is in a similar predicament as the 8-7 Knights find themselves on a two-game losing skid while dropping five of their last seven contests.

However, Gannon has history on its side as it has defeated Mercyhurst 13 times in a row and 23 of 26 times dating back to the 1997-98 season – the Knights won those games by an average of 17.5 points. 

Freshman Jennifer Papich brings a five game double-digit scoring streak into the game for Gannon, which dropped its first PSAC West home game since entering the conference in 2008.

The Gannon University wrestling squad is the only team entering its Mercyhurst matchup on a positive note. The 4-1-1 Knights are coming off a victory against No. 6 University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and a tie against No. 18 Ashland University. 

Even with all the hub-bub of a Gannon-Mercyhurst matchup, coach Don Henry said the Knights are approaching this match like any other.

 “We have to get to 21 points as soon as we can,” he said. “Getting to 21 is the key for us because then we can’t lose. We feel we can win the first seven weight classes.”

The Knights enter the match as the newly crowned No.14 team in the nation. It’s the team’s first appearance in the NCAA Division II Wrestling Coaches Association Top 20 all season.

Gannon is led by No. 2 nationally-ranked redshirt senior Tony Petrella. Petrella, who wrestles in the 174-pound weight class, brings a 9-1 record into the meet. Redshirt senior Zack McKendree will continue his march toward becoming the fifth Gannon wrestler to record 100 career wins. McKendree, a three-time NCAA Division II national qualifier, currently has 99 victories.

Despite being Gannon’s easiest competition in three matches, Henry said he recognizes that records go out the window when wrestling against the crosstown rival Lakers.

 “We see them a lot and know their wrestlers,” he said. “It’s always going to be a tough match. We want those bragging rights.”


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