Shaler defeats McKeesport, celebrates 1st playoff win since ’12
By: Chris Harlan
Tuesday, February 19, 2019 | 12:05 AM
It’s been awhile since this kind of celebration was heard inside Shaler’s locker room.
Seven years, to be exact.
“There was a lot of jumping, dancing and singing,” said junior Mekhi Reynolds, who scored a game-high 25 points Monday night as No. 8 seed Shaler defeated No. 9 McKeesport, 76-60, in a WPIAL Class 5A first-round game.
The playoff win was Shaler’s first since 2012.
After enduring a stretch of disappointing seasons, the Titans (16-7) advance to face No. 1 Mars in the quarterfinals. Senior Matt Bendel added 21 points and senior Brennan Fugh had 15.
“Even the coaches came in dancing and singing,” said Reynolds, who scored 12 fourth-quarter points and went 6 for 6 from the foul line in the final two and a half minutes.
Shaler is only three years removed from a 2-20 season in 2015-16, the team’s first under coach Rob Niederberger. The Titans went 3-19 a year later and 8-13 last season.
This 16-point win over a solid McKeesport lineup proved just how far the Shaler program had come. Deamontae Diggs led McKeesport (10-11) with 20 points.
“They’re excited but they expected it,” Niederberger said. “We’ve worked hard. We came in here three years ago and this program was in dire straits. If you look at this group of seniors, they won four games as a freshman team.
“Now they’re a playoff winner.”
The key was forcing McKeesport into outside shots and then limiting Diggs’ offensive rebounds. The 6-foot-5 junior scored 14 first-half points with a handful of layups and second-chance baskets to fuel McKeesport’s fast start.
The Tigers led 25-22 after the first quarter, which included 10 lead changes.
But Shaler’s defense clogged the middle better in the second half and forced McKeesport to shoot from outside. The Tigers went 11 for 32 from the field after halftime, including 5 for 15 from the 3-point arc.
“We had to pack in and not let them beat us off the dribble,” Reynolds said, “we knew they’d get hot a little bit. But if we could contain them, we’d get the win.”
Shaler stretched its 35-32 halftime lead to 13 points less than 2 minutes into the fourth quarter.
“I think they’re a very athletic team, but I didn’t think they were a great shooting team,” Niederberger said. “In the first quarter they just came out smoking. We saw that (fast start) when they played Penn Hills. We saw that in the first quarter when they played Albert Gallatin. We knew (we had to) just withstand the run.”
Shaler finished the first half with its own 9-0 run and then outscored McKeesport, 21-16, in the third. Early in the fourth, a 3-pointer by Reynolds and a 3-point play by Fugh gave Shaler a 61-48 lead with 6 minutes left.
The victory earns Shaler a third matchup with section foe Mars. The Planets won the two regular-season games 68-62 and 76-53.
“Both teams don’t like each other too much,” Niederberger said, “so we’ll be ready to go.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .