Mars grinds out win over Franklin Regional in Class 5A first round

Wednesday, March 3, 2021 | 9:13 PM

In this unpredictable and unorthodox season, Mars boys basketball coach Rob Carmody is set to savor every victory that comes along.

The Planets took the lead midway through the first quarter and hit a big basket every time Franklin Regional cut into their lead to post a 54-45 victory Wednesday night at home in a WPIAL Class 5A first-round game.

Junior guard Zach Schlegal scored 22 points and made 8 of 8 free throws in the fourth quarter to pace Mars. Mihali Sfanos and his brother Tasso hit a trio of 3-pointers each in what was the 16th playoff win for the Planets’ senior class.

Mars (15-3) will host Trinity at noon Saturday in the quarterfinals.

“We’ll get focused on the next opponent (Thursday),” Carmody said. “Especially a year like this, you have to savor these opportunities. There is no guarantee we’re going to play Saturday. You just don’t know. I hope to God nobody here or Trinity tests (positive), but there are no givens this year.”

It was the sixth consecutive win for Mars over Franklin Regional, including the 2018 WPIAL title game.

Franklin Regional, in the playoffs for the sixth straight season, finished at 8-8.

Turnovers on three consecutive possessions in the first quarter led to a 9-3 Mars advantage that became 12-3 in the first minute of the second quarter on a 3-pointer by Mihali Sfanos.

“You miss a layup, we missed at least seven or eight clean ones from point-blank range,” Panthers coach Steve Scorpion said. “We’re down three in the third quarter, miss a layup, they hit a 3. Instead of being down by one, we get down by six. They would come down and make us pay.”

After Franklin Regional sliced the Planets lead to 23-20, the Sfanos brothers each made a 3-pointer and Schlegal scored off a steal. Mars led 31-22 in less than 90 seconds.

All season, the Panthers’ trio of Luke Kimmich, Caden Smith and Kadyn Hannah averaged in the mid-double figures. But Wednesday, Kimmich and Smith had 11 and Hannah nine, as the Mars defense was effective.

“We knew it was going to be a tough, physical type of game,” Carmody said. “I think our guys responded well. We had a little bit of a crowd, and we did such a great job, defensively.”

A drive from the left by Mihali Sfanos with 16 seconds left in the third quarter gave Mars its first double-digit lead, 36-25. The Panthers cut the lead to six twice in the fourth and down to five when Jake Nader hit a 3-pointer, but Mars hit 9 of 11 free throws down the stretch.

Carmody was pleased with the performance of 6-foot-6 junior forward Chris Dvorak, who collected eight rebounds, six defensively. Dvorak fouled out with 2 minutes, 39 seconds remaining, but his team was in command at that point.

Said Scorpion: “I told our guys they play in WPIAL championship games. They delight in big games. You can’t turn the ball over as many times as we did and miss as many layups as we did. We got down, 12-3, and only gave up six points the rest of the half.”

Mars is the No. 5 team in the 5A bracket. Trinity, an upset winner over Highlands on Wednesday, is seeded 13th.

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