Mars again has Highlands’ number in PIAA quarterfinal victory
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 email@example.com.