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Laurel Highlands' free throw shooting the difference in win

| Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013, 10:26 p.m.

The third time was not a charm for the Mt. Pleasant boys basketball team during Tuesday's Section 3-AAA thriller with visiting Laurel Highlands.

After fighting back from a seven-point second-half deficit, the Vikings were in position to break a 52-52 tie with 14 seconds left in regulation. Mt. Pleasant got off three potential game-winning shots in the closing seconds. However, all of those shots narrowly missed, giving the Mustangs new life as the game headed to overtime.

And in the extra session, the Mustangs' Michael Hooper hit two key baskets, and Nick Lancaster drained four free throws to help Laurel Highlands post a 67-60 victory. With the win, Laurel Highlands (11-5, 7-1) remains tied with Uniontown atop the section standings.

“The thing about it is that we didn't come out with any less intensity than they did,” Laurel Highlands coach Rick Hauger said. “They took the initiative in the second half, but then it was a game that had its runs. They were dominating us on the boards, and I think our big guys were a little tired. Mt. Pleasant was relentless and physical. We just tried to fight it off.”

The Mustangs got solid efforts from Keith Liptock and Joe Pegg. Liptock finished with a game-high 21 points and Pegg followed with 18. Hooper finished with 10. Lancaster and Shane Guthrie each added nine. Laurel Highlands hit 20 of 24 free throws.

“That's three games in a row we've had strong foul shooting,” Hauger said. “Foul shooting makes the difference, and the guys are stepping up.”

For the Vikings, it was a valiant effort that came up just a bit short.

“Our kids showed a lot of guts coming back in the second half,” said Mt. Pleasant coach Tony Splendore, citing a 29-22 third-quarter deficit.

Marcus Malara had a strong game inside and finished with a team-high 14 points. Cody Monroe played tight defense and also hit some clutch shots on his way to an 11-point effort. Ryan Gumbita and Mitch Matlas each hit two 3-pointers, with Gumbita connecting for 10 points. Luke Liprando and Dante Porter each had eight points.

Mt. Pleasant (8-7, 4-3) started to take control of the game in the third quarter, but couldn't pull away as Liptock scored 10 points in the quarter to help keep Laurel Highlands in front, 41-38.

But with 1:20 remaining in regulation, Monroe got a steal and hit a lay-up to put Mt. Pleasant in front, 52-50. However, the Mustangs tied it, which set up Mt. Pleasant's last-second opportunities. The Vikings went for the win on the final possession, but couldn't get one of the final three shots to fall, opening the door for the Mustangs in overtime.

“We had three chances to score at the end of the game,” Splendore said. “We did a good job of holding for the last shot, but it just didn't fall.”

After grabbing an early lead in overtime, the Mustangs were able to stay in front by hitting nine of 10 foul shots. The Mustangs have won five in a row while the Vikings have lost two straight.

Jason Black is staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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