MARS, Pa. – In a battle of 3-point sharpshooters, the Mars Fightin’ Planets used a blazing hot start to soar past Trinity 67-55 in the WPIAL Class-5A boys basketball quarterfinals.
No. 5 Mars knocked down 13 3-pointers on its way to a near-record performance, eliminating upset-minded 13-seed Trinity, a team that sank a WPIAL Class-5A record 14 threes in its 20-point win over No. 4 Highlands to get to the quarterfinals.
Mars used a 12-0 run to grab hold of the lead in the first quarter, and a 24-0 run in the second to put the game out of reach before the halfway mark.
Trinity’s first three baskets of the game were three-pointers, but Mars countered with three of its own and the Planets were just heating up.
With a 19-13 advantage early in the second, Mars kicked off a stretch of 24 unanswered points to take a commanding 43-13 lead before Trinity finally scored with :40 remaining in the half. The Fightin’ Planets led 46-15 at the halftime horn.
The 24-point run included 5-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc. Zach Schlegel and Bryce Cunningham fired in two apiece and Mihali Sfanos added one. Schlegel racked up 14 points in the first half, Sfanos had 10 and Cunningham came off the bench with eight
“That’s probably the funnest quarter I’ve played in my entire career,” Schlegel said. “Everybody was hitting shots and our defense didn’t let anything in and we just put this game away.”
Trinity’s Michael Dunn has led the Hillers in scoring, putting up more than 30 points in each of the last two games, and was held to 8 points in the first half, as shots ceased falling for the first time this postseason.
Dunn would get his points in the second half, as the Hiller tried to claw their way back into the game, but with a running clock, time just ran out. Trinity outscored Mars 19-17 in the third and an incredible 21-3 in the fourth, holding the Fightin’ Planets without a field goal in the final frame, closing the game on a 16-0 run.
But the damage done in the first half could not be repaired.
Mars moves on to the semifinals with the 67-55 victory.
“They’ve got four guys that can all shoot it pretty well so you’ve got to pick your poison and we just kept picking wrong,” said Trinity head coach Tim Tessmer.
“It’s a compounding problem, you start doing that and you start pressing more on the offensive side. You’re not going to give up 46 points and expect to be with them at halftime, not unless we score a lot more than 15,” Tessmer said.
Mars was led in scoring by Schlegel with 19 points and was joined in double-figures by Cunningham with 15 and Sfanos with 10. Trinity’s Dunn led all scorers with 25, 17 of those points coming in the second half.
The balanced effort from Mars has been the standard this season, as the team has become more “connected” than ever.
“We’re at our best when we’re really connected defensively,” said Mars head coach Rob Carmody.
“I keep using the word connected and it’s been one of our themes here. It’s about that connection to your teammate. Trusting that the other guy is going to be there and then believing that you’re going to make the play,” Carmody continued.
“It’s incredible what that belief in each other does. It didn’t matter which one of our guys was open, we got him the ball. They shot it with great confidence. Guys missed a few shots early and then just stuck with each other.”
The Fightin’ Planets will travel to face No. 1 Chartiers Valley in the WPIAL Class-5A semifinals. These teams are similarly matched, with a deep and talented pool of shooters – Mars, led by Zach Schlegel, and the Colts, led by arguably the WPIAL player of the year Brayden Reynolds. That game is schedule to be played at Chartiers Valley at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 10.