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Mars comeback fizzles in state-playoff loss

Planets fall short

NEW WILMINGTON — Mars was not interested in any sort of consolation prize Tuesday night, but the Planets did make things very interesting late against the second-ranked team in the state.

Facing an 18-point deficit early in the fourth quarter of a PIAA Class 5A boys basketball second-round playoff against Cathedral Prep, the Planets staged an impressive comeback.

A 12-0 run in a span of three minutes and 15 seconds pulled Mars to within 58-52 with just under three minutes remaining.

Mars’ Deven Koch, right, and Brady Jordan defend against Cathedral Prep’s Jake Sambuchino during Tuesday’s PIAA 5A boys basketball playoff at Westminster College. Mars’ season came to an end with a 66-54 loss to the Ramblers. Justin Guido/Butler Eagle

Mars then missed a pair of 3-pointers before the Ramblers finally responded as Amaree Pickens and Tavion Spencer combined to drain eight free throws, sealing a 66-54 victory at Westminster College’s Memorial Fieldhouse.

“Against a team like Prep, a comeback like that takes so much energy out of you,” said Mars coach Rob Carmody. “You lose your legs and it’s really tough to keep making those shots. We hit even one of those 3-pointers, cut it to three points, I’d love to see how the game plays out from there. But we gave ourselves a shot and that’s all you can ask for.”

The Ramblers (24-3) had scored no more than 47 points in three of their previous four games. They defeated DuBois Area, 40-32, in a subregional playoff and edged South Fayette, 47-45, in the first round of states last week.

“We’ve been searching for offense. Over the last few weeks, it’s like there’s been a lid on the basket,” said Prep coach Steve Piotrowicz. “I think we let our guard down a bit tonight, were taking too many quick shots. But we hit free throws down the stretch and prevailed.”

Mars’ rally included three baskets from Tasso Sfanos and one apiece from Ryan Ceh and Deven Koch. But after trimming their deficit to six points, the Planets missed their next five attempts from the field as the Ramblers earned breathing room at the other end from the free throw line.

Prep led 36-23 at halftime and out-rebounded the Planets 16-8 in that span.

“We were a punching bag in the first half,” said Carmody. “Anything Prep wanted to do, they did. Later in the game, we started to fight back.”

Sfanos closed his career with a game-high 26 points and Remi Black added 10 for Mars.

Pickens netted 25 for the Ramblers and Jake Sambuchino scored 21.

Mars finishes the season with a record of 17-11.

“We’ve had a lot of great teams at Mars, teams that have played in and won WPIAL title games, two teams advanced to the state championship,” Carmody said. “But I don’t know if we’ve ever had a team that exceeded expectations like this one did.

“Coming into the year, we had Tasso, but everyone else was pretty much an unknown. A lot of inexperienced guys stepped up. For us to be in the state’s Sweet 16, I couldn’t be more proud of this team.”

MARS 54

Tasso Sfanos 9 5-6 26, Austin Campbell 2 0-1 4, Ryan Ceh 4 0-0 9, Deven Koch 2 0-0 5, Remi Black 4 2-3 10, Drew Navetta 0 0-0 0, Brady Jordan 0 0-0 0, Elias Grenier 0 0-0 0, Ian Zukowski 0 0-0 0, Blake Yates 0 0-0 0. Totals: 21 7-10 54.

CATHEDRAL PREP 66

Zion Barksdale 1 0-0 2, Jake Sambuchino 9 1-2 21, Tavion Spencer 3 2-2 9, Amaree Pickens 7 8-8 25, Semontae Lofton 1 0-0 3, Max Wallace 1 0-0 2, Sam Spence 1 0-0 2, Mohamed Rahama 1 0-0 2, Spencer Kanne 0 0-1 0, RJ Roberts 0 0-0 0. Totals: 24 11-13 66.

Mars 14 9 17 14 — 54

Cath. Prep 17 19 17 13 — 66

3-point goals: Mars 5 (Sfanos 3, Ceh, Koch); Cathedral Prep 7 (Pickens 3, Sambuchino 2, Spencer, Lofton).

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