Mt. Lebanon surges past Canon-McMillan in WPIAL Class 6A semifinals

Wednesday, February 27, 2019 | 10:05 PM

With his shooters struggling in the first half, Joe David remained confident heading into the second half.

After all, the veteran Mt. Lebanon boys basketball coach knew it was a matter of time before the shots would start to fall. That happened in the third quarter as the Blue Devils pulled away for a 58-39 win over Canon-McMillan on Wednesday night in a WPIAL Class 6A semifinal at Moon.

Mt. Lebanon (21-3) advances to the championship against Butler (20-4), a 70-68 winner over Pine-Richland, at 9 p.m. Saturday at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center. The Blue Devils are seeking their first title since 2010.

“It was nine years ago we were there. Life is different now. Hopefully, we can keep that unblemished record intact,” David said. “It’s nice to get there, but we have work to do. We’re on the right path.”

The Blue Devils swept the Big Macs (16-9) twice during the regular season (78-46 and 70-50). However, Mt. Lebanon struggled to gain separation in the first half. The Blue Devils had a 14-12 lead after the first, but the squads went into halftime tied at 21.

Seventh-seeded Canon-McMillan, coming off an 83-62 upset over No. 2 Latrobe in the quarterfinals, was happy with that. However, the Big Macs couldn’t keep up in the third quarter once Mt. Lebanon’s shooters started connecting. Blaine Gartley and Sean Loughran swished 3-pointers on consecutive possessions two different times to give the Blue Devils a 35-28 cushion late in the quarter.

“When guys make shots like that, it just energizes us because we feed off that kind of energy,” Mt. Lebanon’s Jake Hoffman said. “We weren’t hitting shots in the first half. We know that, since we have a ton of great shooters on the team, we’d bounce back and make shots.”

Hoffman got into the act as he swished a 3-pointer as time expired in the third to give Mt. Lebanon a 38-28 advantage.

“That was huge,” Big Macs coach Rick Bell said. “It was absolutely a dagger.”

That shot gave the Blue Devils momentum heading into the final frame.

“It was a big moment, but we still had to stay focused in the fourth quarter because we knew they weren’t going to let up,” Hoffman said.

There was no letdown for Mt. Lebanon in the fourth quarter. The Blue Devils focused on working the clock and cashing in on easy buckets and free throws. The team went 10 for 14 at the foul line to seal the win.

“Coach David is a great coach. When they get the lead late in the game, you know they are going to hold the ball. They make their free throws and they are so well coached,” Bell said. “Once they got that little separation, we knew it was going to be a battle.”

Canon-McMillan was within 10 points, 40-30, with 5:07 to go, but failed to chip away more of the deficit.

“I give them credit. They are a good team and a well-coached team. They may catch somebody in the state playoffs,” David said. “I am happy for our guys, having lost in overtime last year against Penn Hills in the semifinals. Winning this year is a nice reward for the hard work they put in.”

Hoffman led all scorers with 17 points, while Gartley had 15 and Loughran finished with 12.

Ethan Beachy’s 13 points paced Canon-McMillan, which opens PIAA tournament play March 9. Tom Samousky added 11 points.

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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