Grove City stuns Highlands in PIAA second round

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020 | 9:55 PM


Just a few weeks after winning its first WPIAL championship since 1995, Highlands’ postseason run came to an end Tuesday night at North Allegheny High School.

After scoring 14 points in the first quarter behind a 10-2 run to start the game, it looked like the Golden Rams’ historic postseason run would continue. But, a deliberate Grove City offense, led by a 17 points effort from senior Kade Persinger, allowed the Eagles to control the final three quarters and escape with a 45-38 PIAA Class 4A second round victory.

“It (the 10-2 run) was important for us, but when it comes down to it, you have to finish and today we didn’t,” Highlands coach Tyler Stoczynski said.

After Persinger hit a pair of free throws to open up the scoring in the first quarter, the Golden Rams countered in a way they only know how.

Luke Cochran buried a three from the corner and Korry Myers got a steal and a fast break layup to take a 5-2 lead. Then, moments later, Myers drilled his first 3-pointer of the game from the top of the key and followed it up with a smooth behind the back pass to Cochran for another easy transition layup.

But, the Eagles didn’t go away. With just over two minutes left in the first Persinger drilled a 3-pointer and Grove City coach Chris Kwolek called a timeout.

“I just wanted to get us under control because our shots weren’t falling,” Kwolek said. “Highlands was able to do what they wanted against our 3-2 zone and we knew that was going to happen. But we knew that the game was still okay and we just didn’t want to let it get away from us.”

By the end of the first quarter, the Eagles only trailed by seven and they never went away. Throughout the game, they displayed a slow-paced offense that was deliberate with each possession.

They worked the ball around the perimeter looking for the exact shot they wanted. Some of their possessions lasted a couple seconds, while others lasted for a minute or more. At the end of the first half, the score was 22-17, which resembles some quarter scores for a Highlands team that averaged 71.3 points this season.

“We expected them to hold the ball and as a coach I have to know better,” Stoczynski said. “I should’ve went to our press earlier but we had our chances and it is what it is.”

With 5:04 left in the final quarter, Persinger hit a layup in the lane that gave the Eagles their second lead of the game.

From their it was a back-and-forth affair as freshman guard Jimmy Kunst answered a few possessions later with an and-1 layup to put his team back in the lead.

“That was big, but I think it was even bigger when we went down seven and our guys we’re still fighting.” Stoczynski said.

After his free throw attempt the Eagles responded with an 8-0 run to put them up 39-32. But, Highlands wasn’t going to go away and Myers and Antoine McDaniel hit back-to-back 3-pointers to get them back in the game.

“There was no doubt that it wasn’t over yet at that point,” Kwolek said. “They hit those two big three’s that I think we provided a great close out, but they hit big-time shots.”

From there, the Eagles were able to close it out. Johnny Crise, who scored a team-high 13 points, missed two free throws with 23.4 seconds left and then picked up his fifth foul attempting to get the rebound and the game was sealed.

“This was surreal, I’m not gonna lie,” Kwolek said. “I have a lot of respect for coach Stoczynski. They were a state championship type basketball program, but I can tell you right now, Grove City is gonna be pretty happy coming back to the community tonight.”

Grove City (18-9) will face off with District 10 champion Hickory in the quarterfinals on Friday.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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