Highlands survives in double overtime
Everything was going Highlands' way.
Threes were falling from all angles, the brown-and-gold clad fans were rocking and Highlands players were slapping high-fives at every turn.
Then, in about the time it took a New Kensington barber to shave a Mohawk into Highlands guard Mike Trenski's head the other day, the Golden Rams were suddenly headed for a close shave against Laurel Highlands.
Led by a superb game from sophomore guard Micah Mason, 13th-seeded Highlands didn't crumble when it blew a 20-point lead Tuesday night and outlasted fourth-seeded Laurel Highlands, 80-77, in double overtime in a thrilling WPIAL Class AAA first-round playoff game at Gateway High School.
As the final seconds ticked down, the rowdiness of the first half came back like a fond memory for the Rams.
And a game headed for a blowout turned into a classic, as the Golden Rams (14-9) experienced a bevy of emotions on the way to the upset.
Mason hit six 3-pointers and scored 30 points, including 11 in the extra sessions, to push Highlands into the quarterfinals, where it will face West Allegheny (14-8) on Friday at a site and time to be determined.
West Allegheny upset fifth-seeded Blackhawk, 51-48, last night.
Highlands hit 13 3-pointers and improved to 13-0 this season when scoring 70 or more points.
"This was one of the most exciting games I've coached," Highlands first-year coach Shawn Bennis said. "It was up and down, back and forth, and our kids kept their composure the whole time."
Trenski fouled out with 25 points, and Denzel Carter added 16 for Highlands.
"We never stopped," Mason said. "We didn't want to lose."
Mason hit a 3 with 22 seconds left in regulation to send the game to overtime.
Aside from watching a 50-30 advantage melt away like the snow the past couple of days, Highlands was plagued by foul trouble, and the bigger Mustangs refused to go away.
Laurel Highlands (21-2), which hadn't lost since before Christmas, used runs of 15-0 and 10-0 to slice into Highlands' lead.
The Mustangs outscored Highlands, 24-3, from late third quarter into the fourth.
This time, they had the hot hand. A perfect example of that was Matt Shull's three-quarter-court 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to get the lead under double figures.
Jake Hoch hit a jumper and free throw to tie the score, 54-54, with 3:40 left in regulation.
Laurel Highlands led, 60-56, with 1:22 to play, but Highlands rallied. Mason hit from long range with 22 seconds left to tie the game.
Mason came up with a steal, but Carter's layup rimmed out in the final seconds, and the game went to overtime.
With Highlands up, 67-64, in the first extra frame, Zach Partyka's 3 tied the score again, and Highlands' final-second shot missed.
In the second overtime, Mason hit back-to-back driving layups to give Highlands a 73-69 advantage, and the teams traded free throws — Trenski hit a pair to make the score 78-72 with 21.3 seconds left. That came after forward Andrae Boone blocked a shot near the baseline.
"It was a typical Highlands win," Bennis said. "We refused to lose."
Ethan Mildren, who led Laurel Highlands with 22 points, made a 3, but Mason converted two more free throws to make the score 80-77.
Milden's desperation heave from near midcourt fell short.
"This was a great team win," Trenski said. "We're hungry to make another run like we did last year. We don't care if we win by 20 or one, we just want to pull out every win."