Canon-McMillan cruises to upset victory over No. 2 Latrobe

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Saturday, February 23, 2019 | 8:10 PM


Veteran Canon-McMillan coach Rick Bell had a few defensive strategies lined up for Latrobe, but it took him some time to decide which one to open with in Saturday afternoon’s playoff game.

“On the bus ride over, that’s when I figured out what we’d do,” Bell said. “I figured, what do we have to lose?”

The options included a box-and-1, a triangle-and-2 and a 2-3 zone to combat Latrobe senior standouts Bryce Butler and Reed Fenton.

Latrobe felt the frustration of a blend of those defenses on its bus ride home.

No. 7 seed Canon-McMillan limited No. 2 Latrobe’s high-scoring senior duo and had four players reach double figures in a lopsided, 83-62 upset in the WPIAL Class 6A quarterfinals at Norwin before an estimated crowd of 1,500.

The Big Macs’ effort, as complete and thorough as it was in any of their wins this season, moves them into the semifinals for the first time in school history.

The Big Macs were lovin’ it.

“This is our third year in a row in the quarterfinals,” said Bell, in his 18th season at Canon-McMillan. “We said, today is the day we knock the wall down. We played well together, as a team. That’s us. We didn’t have one, single first-team all-section kid. For us to play well against teams like Latrobe, we have to play with energy and play together.”

Canon-McMillan (16-8) will play No. 3 Mt. Lebanon (20-3) at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Moon for the right to play in the title game.

The Big Macs also clinched a PIAA playoff spot. If they win the WPIAL championship, they can pull Latrobe (18-3) into the state bracket.

They did quite a job pulling the Wildcats out of their game.

“It was never easy for us to get into rhythm today,” Latrobe coach Brad Wetzel said. “We needed to create openings in our full-court game, our transition game, and couldn’t do that. This is the third time this season that happened. Allderdice and St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes (Va.) were the others. Canon-Mac has a lot of good, tough athletes. They brought their best, and we didn’t.”

Canon-McMillan senior forward Ethan Beachy scored a game-high 27 points and was followed in the scoring column by senior Luke Palma and junior Thomas Samosky with 19 apiece, and senior guard Andrew Engel added 12.

Back to that defense: Bell said the box-and-1 on Fenton early was dual-faceted.

“We saw that Butler gets a lot of his points from Fenton,” he said. “If we could defend Fenton well, maybe we also could limit Butler. In hindsight, it worked out for us.”

West Liberty recruit Butler worked to get his 17 for Latrobe, and Fenton, a Lehigh commit, was bothered by a hip injury and finished with seven, all in the second half.

Canon-McMillan’s defense snarled Latrobe, forcing the fast-paced Wildcats into a one-car garage.

Latrobe beat Canon-McMillan in the second game of the season, 72-70, with the pace playing to its favor.

“We were able to press into turnovers in that game,” Wetzel said. “We got stops and that made a difference. This was uncharted territory for us in a way.”

Latrobe had not played in 14 days. Its last regular-season game was postponed and then it received a first-round bye. Wetzel thought the extra time would help his team and stuck to that assessment after the loss.

Latrobe, ousted in the quarterfinals for the third straight season, led early, at 12-10, before the Big Macs began to gain separation.

After Latrobe tied it 15-15 on a 3-pointer by sophomore Ryan Sickenberger, the Wildcats never led again, despite getting within 31-27.

That’s when the second quarter turned into a mudslide. A 13-0 surge by the Big Macs allowed them to take a 44-29 lead into intermission.

The momentum spilled into the third, all told a 21-2 run bulging the advantage to 53-29 before Fenton’s jumper in the lane at 4:09 of the third.

Canon-McMillan made six 3-pointers in the first half but kept the pedal to the floor in the second with points in the paint and layups.

Butler made a 3 and Fenton followed with a jumper to start the fourth to make it 61-46, but that is as close as Latrobe got in the fourth.

Junior Michael Noonan scored 12 for the Wildcats and Sickenberger had eight, all in the first quarter.

Just one other player scored for Canon-McMillan. Louis Waller chipped in six.

Despite some rousing regular seasons — and a 10-0 section title this one—- Latrobe has not been to the semifinals since 2016. The Wildcats saw a 10-game winning streak stopped with their first loss to a WPIAL team all year.

“I feel bad for Brad; I have the utmost respect for him,” Bell said. “They have been so good but haven’t gotten past this round.”

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