Trib HSSN boys basketball team of the week: Week ending Feb. 29, 2020

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Tuesday, March 3, 2020 | 10:12 AM


There were a couple of WPIAL boys basketball championship droughts that were drenched with a new golden reign this past weekend.

Highlands won the Class 4A title for its first championship in 25 years. Butler later won the Class 6A crown for the first time in 29 years.

But both of those streaks pale when compared to the drought Laurel Highlands ended thanks to a freshman rain-maker.

The Mustangs edged two-time defending champion Mars in a Class 5A thriller to win the school’s first boys basketball crown in 52 years.

“The feeling was unbelievable,” Laurel Highlands coach Rick Hauger said. “It took me back to when I was in junior high and the Mustangs won the WPIAL championship against Donora in 1968.”

Not many saw this title run coming. Laurel Highlands finished third in Section 5 and was the No. 8 seed in a 12-team bracket.

Even Hauger had his doubts until the team ended a two-game skid with a couple late-season upsets on the road over five days.

“Not really that we could win it all, but that we could be a factor. That first came to mind when we beat Penn Hills at their place and shortly thereafter beat Uniontown at Uniontown,” he said.

The Mustangs’ postseason gallop began by edging Hampton and then continued with another stunner over top-seeded Penn Hills.

However, a flat first half last week in the semifinals against Thomas Jefferson put them down double-digit points at intermission.

“Being aggressive on offense,” Hauger said about his team’s second-half keys to beating the Jaguars. “We were far too passive the first half, walking the ball up court and standing around too much in the half court offense.”

A 44-42 triumph over TJ sent Laurel Highlands to the title game against a Mars team looking to three-peat.

In order to have success against the Fightin’ Planets, you need answers for senior big man Michael Carmody, who had become a dominant factor in the late regular season and in two playoffs wins.

“I think that Nick Egnot did a good job of making Michael have to work to get offensive rebounds, and Tyvaughn Long was doing a good job of rebounding also,” Hauger said. “They probably had a few possessions where the ball wasn’t entered into the post when it possibly could have been.”

The tight game came down to the final four seconds of the game. With Laurel Highlands down by one point, freshman sensation Rodney Gallagher was at the free throw line and swished both shots.

“That was about as clutch as you can get, but no surprise to me,” Hauger said. “The importance of the moment does not seem to bother him in the least.”

Mars’ final shot missed thanks to Gallagher stepping in the lane to defend before the shot was taken and the horn sounded.

Hauger has been coaching a long time and realizes Gallagher is a special player that doesn’t come around that often.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “I have had a couple of really good freshmen in the past, Kaleb Ramsey and Ronnie Fudala, but Rodney is tough to beat at this stage of his career.”

A big crowd gathered at Laurel Highlands to welcome home the team after midnight Saturday morning as the community and county continue to heap support on the magical Mustangs.

However, the season continues for the WPIAL champs starting Friday when they face the No. 9 team from District 3 in York Suburban at Greensburg Salem.

“For the team, the focus returned (Monday) when we began practice for the state playoffs,” Hauger said. “It’s hard to say about the community because I have been hearing from so many people still.”

Previous Trib HSSN Teams of the Week:

Week 10 – Belle Vernon Leopards

Week 9 – Neshannock Lancers

Week 8 – Jeannette Jayhawks

Week 7 – Hempfield Spartans

Week 6 – Chartiers Valley Colts

Week 5 – Central Catholic Vikings

Week 4 – Blackhawk Cougars

Week 3 – Brentwood Spartans

Week 2 – Bishop Canevin Crusaders

Week 1 – South Allegheny Gladiators

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