Latrobe girls battle past scrappy Mars into Class 5A quarterfinals

Tuesday, February 22, 2022 | 10:19 PM

This was a playoff win built on the bedrock of team basketball.

Latrobe made extra passes to enhance shot opportunities, fought through screens to get people open and helped on defense.

In the end, it was enough to push the No. 7 Wildcats past No. 10 Mars, 67-62, in a WPIAL Class 5A first-round game Tuesday night.

“It’s fun when everyone is contributing,” said Wildcats junior forward Emma Blair, who had 19 points and 11 rebounds and led four Latrobe players in double figures.

Latrobe (18-3) advances to the quarterfinals Friday to play at No. 2 South Fayette (19-4) in a rematch of last year’s first-round game won by Latrobe.

By and large, Mars (17-6) played right with the Wildcats, even when it came to battling for position around the rim and getting rebounds against taller players.

But the Fightin’ Planets, who led for most of the first quarter, could only regain the lead once more, late in the third quarter.

Senior Ava Black made a jumper to put Mars ahead 50-47. But before the bench players could sit down, Latrobe sophomore Elle Snyder popped out to the wing and connected for one of her four 3-pointers to beat the third-quarter buzzer.

Latrobe took the momentum from there into the fourth and repelled the Planets before holding on.

“That play to get Elle open was executed perfectly,” Latrobe coach Mark Burkhardt said. “Our girls did a fantastic job there. Elle keeps getting better and better.”

Snyder finished with 17 points, 11 in the second half, while senior Anna Rafferty added 15 and junior Camille Dominick 14 for the Wildcats, who made 16 of 25 free throws.

“Elle’s shot was a big turning point,” Blair said. “It helped us go into the fourth quarter strong.”

Latrobe limited Mars’ perimeter shooting in the second half.

“Our team defense, I thought, was really good,” Burkhardt said. “That team can really shoot the ball. We did a good job of stepping under their screens and hedging through.”

This was the fifth straight game Latrobe had its top six healthy and playing together and it showed. The win was their fifth in a row.

Snyder made another 3 to make it 57-52, but junior Alexa McDole answered with a 3 with 4:12 remaining.

Mars refused to go away as Black finished on a second-chance opportunity to cut it to 59-58.

Dominick hit a 3 with two minutes left, Rafferty scored inside and Blair made a free throw for a 65-60 advantage.

Freshman Vitaliana Vargo’s floater got the Planets within 65-62 with 20 seconds left, but Snyder made a pair of free throws for the final margin. That was a good thing for Latrobe because Snyder missed three in a row, including two technical foul shots after Mars called timeout when it didn’t have any left with 17.2 seconds to go.

Black had 19 to lead Mars. Vargo added 13 and junior Olivia Donnelly had 12.

“I’m proud of the kids,” said Mars coach Dana Petruska, the mother of Saint Vincent women’s coach Jimmy Petruska. “If you would have told me we’d be here after we lost two starters last year … we’ll take that. It’s sad it’s over.”

The Fightin’ Planets made four 3-pointers in the first quarter to take a 20-15 lead. But Snyder beat the buzzer there, too, hitting a runner in the lane to give Latrobe a 21-20 edge.

At the end of the second quarter, Snyder knocked down a 3 then came up with a steal as the Wildcats took a 40-32 lead into the half.

“Mars was a tough team and really kept up with us,” Blair said. “We stayed together and got the win.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .

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