Mars uses late surge to top Franklin Regional in rematch of WPIAL title game
By: Bill Beckner Jr.
Monday, December 17, 2018 | 10:27 PM
Mars is going to Las Vegas for a holiday boys basketball tournament.
Before the Planets head west across the country, they stopped to play a high-stakes Section 3-5A game against a team primed to be their rival this season.
The top-ranked Planets used a big fourth-quarter surge to turn back No. 4 Franklin Regional, 59-51, on Monday night in Murrysville in a rematch of last year’s WPIAL Class 5A championship.
The new section opponents seem to match up perfectly, man for man and pound for pound. They exchanged scoring runs, some choice words in the backcourt and a few physical encounters in their first matchup since last March at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center.
Defending champion Mars (4-0, 2-0) did not want to look ahead to the Vegas trip because it knew Franklin Regional (5-1, 1-1) would present a challenge, and the Planets rallied from four points down at the start of the fourth to finish the job.
Mars came in averaging 80.7 points, while the Panthers had only been allowing 41.2.
“Last season was 131 days long for us,” Mars coach Rob Carmody said. “We want the kids to understand the grind and enjoy each mile-marker along the way. We knew this would be a great environment tonight against a team I have so much respect for. Franklin plays so hard; they gave us our first test, and I was glad how our kids responded.”
The Planets used a 13-0 run to regain command but could not put away the Panthers until they made some late free throws and overcame a tense final quarter.
Senior guard Andrew Recchia led the Planets, who outscored the Panthers in the fourth quarter, 24-12, with 17 points, 11 in the final frame.
“You can’t give up 24 points in the fourth quarter against any team,” Panthers coach Steve Scorpion said. “But especially not against the No. 1 team in the WPIAL. And you can’t turn it over 23 or 24 times like we did.”
Freshman Zach Schlegel had a key steal and layup with 45 seconds left to give the Planets a 57-51 advantage.
“We faced a lot of adversity,” Carmody said. “We turned the ball over and had foul trouble. So you wonder, who will step up? Schlegel’s steal was huge; what a moment for a freshman.”
Franklin Regional had outscored Mars in the third quarter, 18-6, to take a 39-35 lead into the fourth. The key run by Mars turned a 41-38 Franklin Regional lead into a 51-41 Planets lead — the first double-digit advantage of the night.
It was Recchia’s and-1 that stretched the margin to 10.
Franklin Regional, though, cut the deficit to three with 1:31 left on a layup by Adam Rudzinski.
But the Planets peeled away methodically inside the final minute. Mars made 25 of 33 foul shots, including 9 of 15 in the fourth when Recchia made 7 of 8.
“We needed more guys to play well and they didn’t,” Scorpion said. “That’s on me. That starts with me; we all could have been better today. We play Armstrong (Tuesday) so it’s a quick turnaround and we have to forget about this one.”
Senior Michael Klingensmith was the only player in double figures for Franklin Regional, with 17 points, including five 3-pointers. Senior Thomas Merante had nine points.
Senior Khori Fusco, a transfer from Clairton, added 15 points, and junior forward Michael Carmody had 12 points for Mars before fouling out with 1:49 to play.
Michael Carmody, though, did his damage before he left.
“There were three straight possessions where he got offensive rebounds and that hurt us,” Scorpion said of Carmody, a 6-foot-6, 295-pound forward who is getting Division I attention for football.
A slow-developing first quarter saw the Planets take a 13-5 lead, as they ended the period on a 7-0 run. The Panthers had six turnovers in the first eight minutes.
Klingensmith came off the bench to connect on a pair of 3-pointers — including his team’s first points in a bank shot — to help keep it close. The Panthers took advantage of Carmody’s absence as he sat with two fouls.
Fusco would not let the Panthers get too close, scoring 11 first-half points as Mars took a 29-21 lead into the break.
The Panthers took control in the third when they held the Planets to six points.
Senior guard Nick Leopold worked his way around Recchia and Carmody and delivered a soft pass to Rudzinski for the tying points (33-33) with 3:33 left in the third.
Leopold stripped Recchia and went coast-to-coast for a 3-point play to give the Panthers their first lead, at 36-35.
Klingensmith followed with his fourth 3 to make it 39-35 just after Carmody picked up his fourth foul.
Bill Beckner is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bill at email@example.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.