Thunder limits turnovers to keep pace with Pioneers


thunder ryan greiser (12) blocks ball carrier wilkes barre pioneer (25) larry kendrick during the 2nd quarter at covelli center, saturday june 27, 2009 Lisa-Ann Ishihara

By John Bassetti

YOUNGSTOWN — Unfortunately, head coach Chris MacKeown didn’t see much of the fireworks display outside the Covelli Centre following the Mahoning Valley Thunder’s game Saturday night.

Instead, his mind was on a show that he witnessed inside.

Despite his team’s 62-47 loss to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the game signaled some progress.

Instead of the usual multiple-turnover tragedy, Mahoning Valley had a relatively respectable two turnovers — both interceptions.

“Having two turnovers is much better than what we had in the past, but there’s no consolation prize in pro football,” said MacKeown after his team dropped to 1-12. “I’m disappointed we didn’t win.

“The thing I want the guys to take from this is that we played with them,” MacKeown said. “We can win games, but we need to start winning.”

Although Wilkes-Barre is the top team in the American Conference as the playoff picture solidifies, MacKeown was disappointed that the Thunder came up empty.

He enumerated plays that posed problems or had a bearing on the outcome.

“We battled them down to the wire, but a handful of mistakes cost us,” he said of an interception early by Micheaux Robinson and, in the end, unnecessarily throwing the ball up that Larry Kendrick picked off.

“We could have come back with another play,” MacKeown said of quarterback Brad Roach’s mistake in the last minute. “I had a play ready to go if that one was covered.”

The coach was especially miffed that an onside kick call went unheeded.

“We were supposed to onside kick at the end, but the kicker didn’t hear the call and he kicks deep,” he said of Nathan Palkovic. “We had all our onside kick personnel in. That was really bad, really bad.”

Another instance of poor judgment occurred early in the third quarter when Mahoning Valley burned a timeout.

The Thunder was on its own 5-yard line at the time.

“I don’t care if it pushes us back to the 21‚Ñ2, just don’t waste a timeout,” MacKeown said of Roach’s move. “I could have stopped the clock and gotten the ball back and who knows what can happen in this game. Chalk it up to inexperience. He’s learning, but we just need to learn faster.”

MacKeown didn’t hide his disappointment with Palkovic, who missed four of six PATs.

“Yes, we’ll have a new kicker.”

In the other lockerroom was Rich Ingold, Wilkes-Barre’s brash, straightforward-talking coach, whose team provides plenty of excitement, yet plenty of disappointment for opponents.

Mahoning Valley’s previous two losses to the Pioneers were by scores of 80-43 and 73-37, so Saturday’s 62-47 score was an improvement.

Ingold, in his abrasive way, acknowledged the Thunder’s progress.

“Our defensive guys don’t feel real good about themselves,” Ingold said. “They [Mahoning Valley’s offense] played better, I’ll give them credit for that, but we didn’t play as good as we should have on defense. We held them under 50 but we expect better.”

Offensively, Wilkes-Barre got the job done.

“They didn’t stop us, offensively, one time,” Ingold said.

“Give them credit, although I don’t give credit to a losing team. Losing is losing. I just think that they [Thunder] fought, whatever that means.”

Ingold admitted that the game meant nothing to the Pioneers while Mahoning Valley had everything to gain.

“This [playing Wilkes-Barre] was their Super Bowl. They ought to be proud of themselves and the way they played, but they’re still going home with a big ‘L’. Hey, this might be a moral win for them, if there is such a thing. If they take it as a moral victory, God bless them. But it’s about winning.”

THUNDER NOTEBOOK From the Covelli Centre

Anthem: Watching Saturday’s Thunder game from above at the Covelli Centre was Jennie Salerno of Boardman, who was enjoying her second af2 home game this season. Salerno also was on hand to listen to her granddaughter, 8-year-old Chloe Noel Housteau, sing the national anthem. “She’s very gifted,” Salerno said of Chloe’s vocal talent. Chloe is a student at Holy Family Parochial School in Poland. She is also the daughter of Mahoning Valley Thunder photographer Gary Housteau.

Af2 idle: All but eight af2 teams will be idle for the upcoming holiday weekend. The July 4th weekend is usually an open week for the league’s teams, including the Thunder, which has not played on the weekend any of its three seasons. Friday’s games will be Quad Cities at Peoria and Oklahoma at Rio Grande Valley, while Saturday’s two games will be Amarillo at Bossier and Spokane at Iowa.

SEE ALSO: Thunder’s gap against Pioneers slowly falling.