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Mars again has Highlands’ number in PIAA quarterfinal victory | TribLIVE.com
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Mars again has Highlands’ number in PIAA quarterfinal victory

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
| Friday, March 11, 2016 10:21 p.m
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Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Mars' Steve Castello (10) drives to the hoop past Highlands' Brayden Thimons (0) during their PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game at Penn Hills High School on Friday, Mar. 11, 2016.
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Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Highlands head coach Tyler Stoczynski reacts to a call against his team against Mars during their PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game at Penn Hills High School on Friday, Mar. 11, 2016.
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Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Highlands' Mitch Dezort (30) soars to the hoop against Mars' Aaron Gruber (0) during their PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game at Penn Hills High School on Friday, Mar. 11, 2016.
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Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Highlands' Jamison Nee (2) and Mars' Robby Carmody (24) collide during their PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game at Penn Hills High School on Friday, Mar. 11, 2016.
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Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Highlands' Ryan Boda (1) is fouled as he splits Mars' John Castello (3) and Christian Schmitt (23) during their PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game at Penn Hills High School on Friday, Mar. 11, 2016.
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Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Mars' Christian Schmitt (23) is fouled by Highlands' Brayden Thimons (0) during their PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game at Penn Hills High School on Friday, Mar. 11, 2016.
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Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Highlands' Ryan Boda (1) tries a shot under pressure from Mars' Christian Schmitt (23) during their PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game at Penn Hills High School on Friday, Mar. 11, 2016.
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Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Mars' Robby Carmody (24) drives the ball against Highlands during their PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game at Penn Hills High School on Friday, Mar. 11, 2016.
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Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Mars head coach Rob Carmody talks to his team during a time out against Highlands during their PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game at Penn Hills High School on Friday, Mar. 11, 2016.
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Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Mars' Robby Carmody (24) blocks Highlands' Ramello Freeman's (35) shot during their PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game Friday, March 11, 2016, at Penn Hills.
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Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Highlands' Ryan Boda (1) sits on the bench in the last minutes of their game against Mars during their PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game at Penn Hills High School on Friday, Mar. 11, 2016.
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Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Highlands' R.J. Reiger (24) takes an off balance shot against Mars' John Castello (3) during their PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game at Penn Hills High School on Friday, Mar. 11, 2016.
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Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Highlands' Jamison Nee (2) gets called for a charge against Mars' Robby Carmody (24) during a PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game Friday, Mar. 11, 2016, at Penn Hills.
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Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Mars head coach Rob Carmody celebrates his teams points against Highlands during their PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game at Penn Hills High School on Friday, Mar. 11, 2016.
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Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Mars' Robby Carmody (24) dunks the ball against Highlands during their PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game at Penn Hills High School on Friday, Mar. 11, 2016.
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Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Mars' Robby Carmody (24) grabs a rebound against Highlands during their PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game at Penn Hills High School on Friday, Mar. 11, 2016.
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Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Highlands' Mitch Dezort (30) drives to the hoop against Mars' Steve Castello (10) during their PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game at Penn Hills High School on Friday, Mar. 11, 2016.
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Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Highlands' Mitch Dezort (30) loses the ball against a Mars defender during their PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game Friday, March 11, 2016, at Penn Hills.
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Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review
Highlands' Mitch Dezort (30) takes a shot against a Mars defender during their PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal game at Penn Hills High School on Friday, Mar. 11, 2016.

Highlands was hoping Mars would be a means to an end. But the Planets proved to mark the end for the Golden Rams, who continued their struggles against their northern rivals from Section 1-AAA.

Highlands may have blasted off this season, but it may never land on Mars.

For the 15th consecutive time, the Planets defeated the Golden Rams, the latest win coming Friday night in runaway fashion, 77-48, in the PIAA Class AAA quarterfinals at Penn Hills.

Highlands’ streak of short-circuits against the Planets dates to 2010.

“Highlands brings out the best in our kids,” said Mars coach Rob Carmody, whose team has never reached the state semifinals before. “We don’t really talk about (the streak of wins) because the groups of kids are different. I guess it’s a great testament to where our program is.”

Mars (22-6) advances to play Bishop McDevitt (23-6), which beat New Castle, 77-68. Highlands, which overcame the surprising loss of two transfers late in the season to make it farther than any team in school history, is done at 23-6.

“We didn’t hit the glass and we were a half-step slow all night,” Highlands coach Tyler Stoczynski said. “Maybe it was our legs catching up to us, I don’t know. No one feels sorry for the other team.”

Mars used balanced scoring, athleticism on the boards and pressure on defense to control the game from the start. The Planets led by 20 at halftime (39-19) and 33 after three quarters (64-31).

“I love it when we have balance,” Carmody said. “I don’t know if we even had a guy take 10 shots tonight.”

Sophomore Robby Carmody led all scorers with 19 points, 11 in the opening quarter. The Division I prospect took three fouls into the third quarter but that was offset some by three dunks, including an alley-oop from Furman-bound Christian Schmitt with 30 seconds left in the third to make it 64-30.

Carmody hit the game-winning shot in Tuesday’s second-round win over Erie Strong Vincent, 58-56.

“He might be the most athletic sophomore in the WPIAL, maybe in the country,” Stoczynski said of Carmody. “But the thing with Mars is that it’s all about team. They don’t care who scores.”

Mars senior forward Steve Castello added 17 points, and senior 6-5 center John Castello, a Shippensburg recruit, scored 15.

Highlands clearly missed seniors Lavontae Martin, a starting forward, and Lamarr McKamey, a key reserve, both of whom provided points and rebounds in two games against Mars this season.

Martin had 22 points and 21 rebounds in a WPIAL semifinal upset of New Castle.

With Highlands’ size down, Mars’ post players were abrasive and forced Highlands’ guards to play haphazardly on the perimeter.

“For whatever reason, we were never able to make a run at them,” Stoczynski said. “This is a good experience for our guys.”

Just like in the WPIAL championship game against Beaver Falls, Highlands had only one player score in double figures. Junior Mitch DeZort had 12. Junior Ryan Boda added nine.

“(Mars senior) Aaron Gruber held (Highlands senior) Jamison Nee to six points — all on his own,” coach Carmody said. “That’s is a tough thing to do. And Steve Castello was outstanding.”

Nee scored 29 in a win over Hollidaysburg in the second round.

Mars made seven 3-pointers. Highlands made five from behind the arc.

Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch edition of the Tribune-Review. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com.

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