Friday night’s class 5A WPIAL title game between Laurel Highlands and New Castle was an absolute thriller, going into double overtime and ending with two clutch free throws by Mustangs’ star Rodney Gallagher, the leading scorer all game.
In the first overtime, New Castle, with just seconds on the clock to go the entire length of the floor, ran it down and found shooter Isaiah Boice on the wing, who drained the three to send the game to another extra period.
In the second overtime, in a tie game, 58-58, with 13 seconds left, Gallagher had control of the offense. He drove to the rack, as he had done all game, and was fouled by New Castle’s Mike Wells while elevating for an off-balance shot.
Did Gallagher think he got fouled?
“Yeah,” he said after the game. “He pushed me. I couldn’t even see the hoop.”
0.3 seconds remained on the clock, and Gallagher was set to go to the line for the win. He knocked down both, and the game was all but over. New Castle heaved a three-quarter court shot for the win, but it was not close.
“I don’t have words for it,:” New Castle head coach Ralph Blundo said about the foul call. “He’s human, I get it. You don’t make that call.”
Rodney Gallagher fouled! Just needs to make one for LH to win! pic.twitter.com/Y7O90eoA4Q
— Brad Everett (@BREAL412) March 5, 2022
“I thought I put myself in the best position to stop Rodney,” Wells, the defender, said. “I thought I guarded him good, but, what happened happened, and he knocked down the free throws for the win.”
Part of what made the call so controversial was the fact that a very similar play had occurred just seconds before on the other end. Wells, this time on offense, drove to the hoop, embraced contact from the defender, but there was no call.
“Yes,” Blundo said when asked if he felt Gallagher’s drive was a similar situation to Wells’ offensive attempt. “At a higher degree. Much more contact in the exact same situation, roughly in the same spot. It’s a double overtime game, 24-0 team, 23-1 team, playing their hearts out. Let’s go play another four minutes. Figure this thing out, let the kids figure it out. It’s disappointing because at the end of the day, I have to go into the locker room and look at them.”