Mars attacks, conquers Knoch in Section 1-AAA showdown
Mars coach Rob Carmody is aware that visiting teams often have problems winning at Knoch, dating back to his days as a North Catholic athlete.
But any concern was wiped away quickly as the first-place Planets rolled to a convincing 75-46 Section 1-AAA victory before a huge crowd at Knoch.
Mars, ranked second in the Trib Total Media Class AAA poll, is 12-2 overall and 6-0 in section play. Knoch slipped to 8-5, 3-3.
The Planets jumped out to a 21-1 lead at the end of one quarter and led, 39-11, at the half.
“This game is a product of those guys in the locker room,” Carmody said. “I would love to say I have some special speech. Our senior guys were focused tonight. You could see it when we walked into the gym. They know the nature of this rivalry.”
Defense and offensive rebounding carried the Planets in their victory.
In Knoch's first four possessions, the Planets forced three turnovers and 6-foot-8 center Josh Goetz blocked a Knights shot.
Five Mars players scored the team's first five field goals.
“They made their first couple of shots, and that's the last thing we needed,” Knights coach Ron McNabb said.
“That was a big hole we got into. A lot of their shots were uncontested, and we got lost defensively.”
Knoch didn't register a field goal until the 6:22 mark of the second quarter when Dakota Bruggeman finally found the range.
“They're well-coached, and we knew coming in that they have size, they have speed and they execute their stuff very well,” McNabb said. “We didn't shoot the ball well, and I think that bothers us on the defensive end.”
Two of Knoch's leading scorers, Austin Miller and David Gallagher, were held scoreless in the first half.
Junior Owen Nearhoff led a balanced scoring attack with 19 points, with Mitchell Buzzard adding 17.
“This is one of the best high school environments to play in,” Carmody said. “They have a great pep band, the fans are going back and forth, and our guys don't want to play in a gym with six people in it. They want to be rewarded with a big crowd.”
With a solid 12-2 mark, Carmody cautioned about anyone getting overconfident. Two players who provide depth, Zach May and Alex Locher, are recovering from injuries. May played sparingly Tuesday.
Nearhoff, who has been hurt much of the season, is just getting back to full strength.
“We're not in the playoffs yet,” Carmody said.
The magic number for Mars to make the playoffs is three. Any combination of Mars wins and Knoch losses puts the Planets in the WPIAL playoffs for the sixth year in a row.
Garrett Ashbaugh had 13 points for Mars. Matt Getsy checked in with 12.
“We spent all Saturday and all Monday trying to prepare for them,” McNabb said. “Goetz inside has improved tremendously since last year. Their guards are string, physical and quick.”
Goetz led Mars with 11 rebounds.
One bright spot for Knoch was the play of 6-foot-4 sophomore Matt Zanella, who came off the bench to score 12 points.
Bruggeman led the Knights with 14 points.
Knoch will try to get back on the winning track with two road games — Friday at Freeport and Tuesday at Kittanning.
George Guido is a freelance writer.