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No. 1 Mars erases 14-point, 4th-quarter deficit to top No. 5 Franklin Regional | TribLIVE.com
High School Basketball

No. 1 Mars erases 14-point, 4th-quarter deficit to top No. 5 Franklin Regional

William Whalen
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Franklin Regional’s Nick Leopold (3) goes up for a shot against Mars’ Brandon Caruso (23) Friday, Jan. 25, 2019 at Mars.

For 30 minute and 59 seconds, the Class 5A No. 5-ranked Franklin Regional boys basketball team had top-ranked Mars on the ropes.

Then came the eclipse.

With the help of freshman guard Zach Schlegel’s late basket that ignited a 5-0 run in the final minute, Mars took its first lead and rallied for a come-from-behind win, 58-53, over Section 3 Franklin Regional in front of a raucous and packed gymnasium at Mars.

“All of the sudden, in the fourth quarter it was big play after big play,” Mars coach Rob Carmody said. “Everybody at the end stepped up and did what they had to do.”

Mars (16-1, 10-0) earned itself a two-game cushion in the section standings with the win. Franklin Regional (14-5, 8-2) will rest in second place. Both of the Panthers’ section losses this season were to Mars.

“We just didn’t finish when it came down to it,” Franklin Regional coach Steve Scorpion said. “We had a 14-, 12-point lead, and we just didn’t finish. I got to do a better job at getting my guys to defend at the end and getting them to finish.”

The final minute brought to close a fourth quarter that started with the Panthers leading 41-32. Franklin Regional’s Nick Leopold, who finished with a game-high 26 points, scored on back-to-back possessions to give the Panthers a 45-34 lead.

But Mars standout Andrew Recchia, who finished with a team-high 22 points, took his game to another level and willed the Fightin’ Planets back. After the Panthers’ Thomas Merante added a basket and a 3-pointer to extend Franklin Regional’s lead to 50-36 with 4:59 to play, Recchia scored seven straight points that included back-to-back steals and baskets by the senior guard. It sent the crowd into a frenzy, and the Planets fed off the energy.

“High school basketball, college basketball and in the pro basketball is funny. Things just start rolling in a direction and it’s hard to stop and you kind of saw that tonight,” Carmody said. “We got some momentum off what probably seemed like innocuous plays at the time and all of the sudden two points turns into eight points, turned into a tie, into a blocked shot and all of the sudden, you have the lead. We were very fortunate to have the outcome we did. In all reality, Nick (Leopold) was probably the best player on the floor.”

The game couldn’t have started any better for the Panthers. Aidan Wiley hit a 3-pointer, Mernate added a layup and Leopold made a running jumper to start the Panthers off on a 7-0 run. Mars responded with a 6-0 run, but the Panthers led 16-10 to close the first quarter.

Michael Carmody, who finished with 18 points, added a put-back early in the second quarter but Leopold responded with back-to-back 3-pointers to give Franklin Regional a 22-12 lead. Recchia and Carmody paced the Planets offense and closed in on the Panthers lead at 30-24 going into halftime.

“We knew that it wasn’t going to be easy, and we knew just because we were up at the half that it was a long game,” Scorpion said. “We learned the hard way that it was a very long game.”

The Panthers and Planets each came out in the third quarter and made some mistakes. Leopold scored on three layups to drive the Panthers, who held Mars to just eight third-quarter points.

“This is on me, and this is going to be tough to deal with,” Scorpion said. “They’re a very good team. They’re No. 1 in the WPIAL and No. 2 in the state for a reason.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.