Rodney Gallagher’s winner lifts Laurel Highlands over Thomas Jefferson

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Friday, February 19, 2021 | 10:37 PM


Laurel Highlands’ Rodney Gallagher already has accomplished more than most sophomores, but the Mustangs star added two more firsts to his list.

With time ticking away, Gallagher pulled up in the right corner and made the first winning jumper of his high school career Friday night, sinking a contested shot with 1.2 seconds left to defeat host Thomas Jefferson, 58-56. The plan was to use teammate Keandre Dashields’ screen to get him or Dashields to the rim, but Gallagher had to improvise.

“They played it well, so I decided I wanted to gather myself and pull it out,” said Gallagher, who was defended closely by TJ freshman Evan Berger. “He was sagging a little bit, so I knew I could do one dribble pull-up. It was there. I’m glad I made it.”

The jumper gave Gallagher a game-high 22 points, and more importantly clinched him and his teammates their first section title. Laurel Highlands (10-3, 8-0) has a three-game lead in Section 1-5A with two games unplayed.

The section title is the team’s first since 2013.

“We’ve always wanted something like this,” Gallagher said. “It’s another dream come true.”

Brandon Davis added 16 points for Laurel Highlands with three 3-pointers.

Berger led Thomas Jefferson (15-4, 5-3) with 14 points and four three pointers. His fourth 3 gave TJ a 51-47 lead with less than 6 minutes left in the fourth. But the Jaguars then went scoreless for nearly five minutes, and Laurel Highlands took a 56-51 lead with less than a minute left.

Down five in the closing seconds, Thomas Jefferson pulled off an improbable rally with a layup by Aidan Kelly and a three-point play by Jake Pugh. Pugh’s free throw created a 56-56 tie with 37 seconds left.

That led to Gallagher’s heroics.

Laurel Highlands coach Rick Hauger called timeout with 14.7 seconds and drew up the screen but also trusted Gallagher’s instincts in that key moment.

“He got the one-on-one situation there,” Hauger said. “For us, when it’s Rodney with the ball, that’s probably a good deal. As been his history so far in the two years he’s been here, he’s as clutch a player as I’ve seen in high school. … The moment just really never gets too big for him.”

This wasn’t the first time Gallagher won a game for Laurel Highlands. He made two winning free throws with 4.8 seconds in the WPIAL finals last winter, but this was his first winning shot with the clock ticking.

“I thought Berger had his hand right in his face,” TJ coach Dom DeCicco said. “We knew it was going to be a mid-range jumper. He defended it. The kid just made a better play.”

Thomas Jefferson had defended Gallagher well in the second half, holding the talented guard scoreless in the third quarter. The Jaguars at times face guarded Gallagher and Davis.

Laurel Highlands led 18-17 after one quarter and 35-28 at half.

TJ opened the third quarter on an 11-1 run with five points from Ethan Dunsey, who finished with 11. The Jaguars won the third quarter by 12 points and led 48-43 entering the fourth.

Gallagher scored 16 points in the first half with three 3s and then came alive in the fourth with six more points.

“In the third quarter, they definitely had me on the ropes,” Gallagher said. “I’d seen a lot of help defense. They were making my shots way tougher. I just had to calm myself down, slow my game down a little bit and get back to it in the fourth quarter.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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