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Mars boys too much for Steel Valley in OT

| Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 12:06 a.m.

In a basketball game of runs, Mars made the final one count in overtime to claim a WPIAL Class AAA first-round playoff victory Tuesday night.

Sophomore John Castello scored 25 points, including five in OT, and the eighth-seeded Planets rallied to beat ninth-seeded Steel Valley, 67-61, at West Allegheny High School to advance to the quarterfinals.

Mars (15-8) will face top-seeded Chartiers Valley (22-1) on Friday at a site to be determined after Chartiers Valley overwhelmed 16th-seeded Mt. Pleasant in a first-round game.

“It's what you'd expect out of an 8-9 game,” Mars coach Rob Carmody said. “That second half was a fun game to coach.”

After Steel Valley overcame a nine-pont deficit with a 17-4 run in the third quarter, Mars came back from five points down in the fourth to force the extra period, then outscored Steel Valley, 9-3, at the outset of overtime to take a six-point advantage and hold on for the victory.

The Planets' game-changing run, included a 13-7 edge in overtime.

“We went cold. We couldn't put the ball in the basket,” Steel Valley coach Shawn McCallister said, though foul trouble played a part in it.

Three Steel Valley starters were whistled for their fifth personals in overtime, including senior Ajan Smith, who closed out his high school career with a 26-point effort to lead both teams.

“Nobody has an answer for Ajan Smith,” Carmody said. “He's a matchup nightmare as a 6-4 guard. If you would have said he would have had 26 tonight, I would have thought we'd be in trouble.”

Owen Nearhoof added 18 points and Alex Gruber, whose free throw in regulation forced overtime, had 16 for Mars, which overcame a turnover with 27 seconds left in regulation by keeping Steel Valley from scoring on its final fourth-quarter possession.

Steel Valley (14-5) jumped to a 10-3 lead and settled for a one-point edge at the end of the first quarter. But Mars quickly took control in the second, opening up a 23-18 lead on a basket by Castello. The Planets held a 28-23 advantage at halftime.

In the third, Castello hit a jumper and a layup in succession to open play and give Mars a 35-26 lead before Steel Valley regrouped and went ahead 41-39 on a basket by Dominique Keyes, who also fouled out in OT after scoring 14 points for the Ironmen.

Steel Valley stayed in front until Gruber, who was playing in just his sixth game since returning from a broken ankle, hit 1 of 2 free throws with 3:45 left to tie the score 53-53 and another 1 of 2 with 1:50 to go to tie it again 54-54. Neither team scored again in regulation.

“Foul trouble affected our bigs,” McCallister said, “because they couldn't play the style they play and we couldn't do what we wanted to do, which was hit the boards. We were outrebounded badly.”

In overtime, sophomore Ryan McCallister's 3-pointer gave Steel Valley a 57-54 lead before Mars scored nine unanswered to go up 63-57.

Smith scored 13 points in each half but fouled out early in overtime.

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

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