JEFFERSON TWP — The evening began with Knoch eyeing a share of the Section 1 championship. It ended with the Knights proving they deserved it.
Senior guard Austin Miller scored 24 points — hitting all 10 of his free throws — and the Knights never trailed in a 65-58 home boys basketball victory over Mars Friday night.
A Planet win would have earned for Mars (13-7, 10-2) the section title outright, but Knoch's triumph, paired with Indiana's win against Kittanning, means that the Knights, Planets and Indians will all be recognized as section champions.
Knoch (16-4, 10-2) last claimed a piece of a section crown in the 2004-05 season. At the final buzzer Friday night, the Knights' student section stormed the court.
“Winning tonight meant everything,” said Miller. “It's what we've been working for all year. We went from being the third-seed out of the section to possibly being No. 1. That alone is so big.
“Our fans, our student section is the best,” added Miller.
Mars made a run in the fourth quarter, scoring the first seven points of the period to cut its deficit to 51-44. Knoch's Matt Zanella sank a basket to halt the Planets' momentum with 5:20 left in the game. Soon after, the only thing standing it the Knights' way of victory was free throws. Miller and David Gallagher combined to sink all eight of their team's shots from the line in the closing minutes.
The Planets struggled to find rhythm on offense and were dominated on the boards 41-20.
“They controlled the boards and contested shots,” said Mars coach Rob Carmody. “That's what teams with good defenses do.”
Even with the disappointing loss, Mars still earned a piece of its second straight section championship.
“We held the top spot in the section in our hands,” added Carmody. “Now, it's up to the (WPIAL) committee to decide who is No. 1, 2 and 3. In that respect, this loss could hurt us. But Knoch and Indiana both brought back a lot from last year and we had just Owen (Nearhoof) returning. Nobody outside of our locker room picked us to win the section and we did for the second straight year. I can be nothing but proud of our kids.”
John Castello paced Mars with 14 points and Nearhoof added 13.