West Mifflin boys fend off Laurel Highlands in playoff tilt

| Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, 12:18 a.m.

No Ryan Maha. No problem for West Mifflin. Not Friday night, at least.

Aaron Adams scored 20 points, including five 3-pointers, and West Mifflin, without its senior leader for the remainder of the season, opened the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs with a 63-51 victory over Laurel Highlands in a preliminary-round game at Plum.

The Titans (13-6) advanced to play second-seeded Central Valley (18-3) in a first-round game Tuesday at a site to be determined.

Maha, a senior guard who had season-ending knee surgery, is averaging 21.3 points. He had been bothered by chronic knee pain and also missed five regular-season games but still managed to top 1,000 career points.

“He's a good player there's no doubting that,” said Maha's father, west Mifflin coach Lanca Maha. “The biggest thing we've got to master now is our ballhandling. Ryan knows where to go on the court. He can bail you out when you get in a tough situation.”

There were more than a few of those instances in the first half for West Mifflin, which clung to a 34-29 halftime lead then pulled away in the second half.

“Other than Uniontown, we don't see that type of athleticism,” said Laurel Highlands coach Rich Hauger, whose Mustangs finished third in Section 3, five games behind first-place Uniontown. “Give our kids some credit, though, because they battled hard tonight.”

Adams and Karlyn Garner (10 points), a pair of underclassmen, helped to make up for the scoring void in West Mifflin's offense, with Adams coming within four points of tying his career high.

“This isn't the first time he's stepped up and made some shots for us when Ryan hasn't been able to play,” Lance Maha said.

Though Adams, a junior guard, made two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to help West Mifflin hold a comfortable lead, the Titans took command in the third, helped by a pair of 3-pointers off the bench by senior Ryan Catalogna and sophomore Kenneth Rouse-Strother.

West Mifflin, the fourth-place team from Section 4, built a 51-41 advantage heading into the fourth.

The Titans outscored the Mustangs, 18-17, in the first quarter during a competitive run that saw Laurel Highlands (11-11) nearly match West Mifflin step for step. West Mifflin, which hit four 3-pointers during the first eight minutes, used a 16-12 second-quarter edge, capped by a 5-0 run at the end, after Laurel Highlands had tied the score 29-29.

“Early in the first half, they were handling our pressure pretty well,” Lance Maha said. “And they were making some shots, too. But we started to wear them down some in the second half, and those shots were falling.”

West Mifflin outscored Laurel Highlands by seven points in the second half, including 17-12 in the third quarter.

“In the second half, we started standing around instead of coming to the ball,” Hauger said. “They made some 3s, and we didn't shoot it overly well. Adams is a good shooter. When he gets his feet set, he's dangerous.”

It is something that Lance Maha said West Mifflin sorely needs in Ryan Maha's absence.

“Aaron is a good shooter. We know that,” the coach said. “Let's hope it continues.”

Laurel Highlands' David Rusko, who did not start for the Mustangs, led all players with 22 points.

Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at dmackall@tribweb.com.

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