Mt. Pleasant holds off Southmoreland's rally
Friday's Section 3-AAA boys basketball finale between Mt. Pleasant and host Southmoreland wasn't exactly a nail-biter, but it wasn't a blowout either. The Vikings built a 27-point lead yet were forced to withstand a strong second-half effort from the Scotties before coming away with a 79-66 victory.
“In our last six games, we have won five of six, and the kids are really coming together,” Mt. Pleasant coach Tony Splendore said after the Vikings (13-9, 8-4) had five players score in double figures. Mt. Pleasant finished in third place in Section 3-AAA and will learn its WPIAL playoff matchup on Tuesday.
Mt. Pleasant came out with a strong push and quickly built a 10-0 lead. Marcus Malara, Mitch Matlas, Luke Liprando, Ryan Gumbita, Tyler Mellors and Dante Porter each scored in the first quarter as the Vikings gained an 18-9 advantage.
Malara led the Vikings with 19 points, followed by Gumbita (15), Liprando (14), Mellors (13), Matlas (10) and Porter (eight).
“When you look at our scoring, we are really spreading the ball around, and they are unselfish,” Splendore said.
Mt. Pleasant had no trouble putting points on the board, but putting the Scotties (0-20, 0-12) away proved to be more difficult.
In the second quarter, Southmoreland's Zac Black scored nine of his 14 points to help the Scotties pull to within 26-20. But after the Scotties closed the gap, the Vikings responded with a 14-0 run and took a 44-26 lead into the half.
Mt. Pleasant's lead swelled to 27 points in the third quarter, but Southmoreland wouldn't go away. Mike Mucha (15 points), Justin Livengood (14), Randy Ohler (13) and Black each hit big shots to help Southmoreland inch closer.
In the fourth, Ohler made a shot with four minutes left to pull the Scotties to within 75-64, but the Vikings allowed Southmoreland to get no closer. However, the Scotties' rally can't be overlooked, especially considering the team has endured a winless season to date.
“For being 0-20, the attitude is great, and their fight is good,” Southmoreland coach Frank Muccino said. “But you can't spot a team a 27-point lead. We made up 16 points, and we were still down 11. If it was a five-point deficit, we would have been up nine. But they just kept working hard. They are resilient, and we've definitely seen improvement. It's just a matter of consistency.”
The Scotties will have one last shot at a victory when they host Waynesburg in a nonsection game Monday.
For the Vikings, a grueling week that featured three games in four days provided them with a tough test as they get ready for the postseason.
“Playing three games in a week is difficult,” Splendore said. “We played a great first half, but then in the second half, our defense wasn't there and we let them back in the game.”
Jason Black is the local sports editor of the Daily Courier. Reach him at email@example.com.