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Slow start costs Mars girls in WPIAL 5A playoff loss

Mars Ava Day puts the brakes ont near mid-court while trying to break the South Fayette press early in the first half in their WPIAL first round playoff game Tuesday night at South Fayette High School. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle 02/20/2024

SOUTH FAYETTE TWP — Offensive troubles did not last the entire game for Mars, but they dug a hole the Planets were unable to emerge from.

Twelve turnovers in the first half and just four makes on 15 shot attempts led to only 11 points by halftime in Tuesday’s WPIAL Class 5A girls basketball first-round playoff against South Fayette.

Mars coach Zachary Stitt talks to his girls as the third period gets ready to start in their WPIAL 5A playoff game at South Fayette High School. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle 02/20/2024

After an early 4-0 lead dissolved, the Planets never led again in a 55-36 loss to the Lions.

“We came in thinking that a game in the 30s or 40s would benefit us,” said Mars coach Zach Stitt. “That’s why we were more patient early on. If this was a game early in the season, we probably would have put up more shots in the first two quarters.”

Trailing the hosts 13-6 after one quarter and 24-11 at halftime, Mars started to find its offensive groove in the third.

Mars’ Cecilia Christy sinks a free throw in the second quarter of the Planets’ WPIAL 5A girls basketball playoff loss to South Fayette. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle 02/20/2024

Alexis Cashdollar and Vita Vargo combined for five field goals in the period, but the Lions maintained their double-digit lead thanks in part to a pair of treys from sophomore guard Haylie Lamonde, who led all scorers with 24 points.

Carmella McDole of Mars makes a great saves that unfortunately goes to a South Faytte player during the teams’ WPIAL 5A playoff game at South Fayette High School Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle 02/20/2024

“We have a number of players who are capable of scoring in the 20s and she is definitely one of them,” said Lions coach Bryan Bennett. “I’m not surprised at all with how she played tonight.”

The Lions (15-8) held a 36-22 lead with one quarter to play.

“I thought we played pretty well on defense in the first three quarters, but we just were not able to generate enough offense,” said Stitt.

Mars’ Ava Day survives a struggle and comes out with the offensive rebound against South Fayette in their WPIAL 5A playoff loss at South Fayette High School Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle 02/20/2024

Cashdollar, who paced Mars with 14 points, scored eight in the fourth. Her basket with 7:20 left in the game cut South Fayette’s lead to 36-26. But Lamonde’s 11 points, including six from the free throw line, never allowed the Planets to truly threaten the lead.

Mars shot 55% (10 of 18) from the field in the second half.

Juliette Leroux added 14 points for the Lions, who have won four of their last five.

Mars’ Vita Vargo goes underhand and to the hoop around two South Fayette defenders in the Planets’ WPIAL 5A playoff loss at South Fayette High School. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle 02/20/2024

“We’re starting to peak at the right time,” Bennett said.

The Planets finish the season with a record of 11-12.

“I’d like to be over .500 at the end of the season, but I’ll take the playoff experience our girls got tonight against a really good team,” said Stitt, who was in his first year as head coach at Mars. “Last spring, this team graduated four girls who are now playing a sport in college. That’s very tough to replace, especially with a new coaching staff coming in.”

Mars’ Cecilia Christy pulls up short and shoots a deep three over South Payette's Alexis Toth in the second period Tursday night at South Faytte in their WPIAL 5A playoff game. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle 02/20/2024

MARS 36

Cecilia Christy 1 2-2 5, Vita Vargo 4 0-2 8, Alexis Cashdollar 6 2-2 14, Ava Day 2 1-2 6, Carmella McDole 1 1-2 3, Gianna DeLisio 0 0-0 0, Mya Moore 0 0-0 0. Totals: 14 6-10 36.

SOUTH FAYETTE 55

Haylie Lamonde 7 6-6 24, Lainey Yater 2 3-6 8, Alexa Ankrum 1 0-0 2, Juliette Leroux 7 0-0 14, Cierra Rexrode 0 2-2 2, Lailah Wright 0 1-2 1, Erica Hall 2 0-0 4, Alexis Toth 0 0-0 0. Totals: 19 12-16 55.

Mars 6 5 11 14 — 36

South Fayette 13 11 12 19 — 55

Mars’ Alexis Cashdollar is met with a hand and a block by South Fayette's Erica Hall Tuesdsy night in their WPIAL 5A playoff game at South Fayette High School. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle 02/20/2024
Mars’ Vita Vargo drives the baseline early in the first period Tuesday night on her way to the basket in the Planets’ WPIAL 5A playoff game with South Fayette at South Fayette High School. Ed Thompson/Butler Eagle 02/20/2024

3-point goals: Mars 2 (Christy, Day); South Fayette 5 (Lamonde 4, Yater).

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