Repeat Performance

Mars rallies by Moon for WPIAL 5A title

March 6, 2019 Cranberry Local Sports


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Mars players celebrate after senior guard Andrew Recchia (13) drained the game-winning 3-pointer in the closing seconds of Friday's WPIAL Class 5A boys basketball championship game against Moon. The Planets rallied from a 18-point deficit to defeat the Tigers, 58-56.

PITTSBURGH — With chants of his name from the raucous Mars student section, decked out in a sea of white, Andrew Recchia pumped his arms and made the crowd noticeably louder.

Recchia certainly earned the chants and admiration.

With Mars down and seemingly out, the Planets' senior point guard put the game in his hands.

And delivered.

Recchia was 7-of-7 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter, each one huge, and hit a deep 3-pointer with five seconds remaining to bring Mars all the way back from a big deficit in a 58-56 win Friday night in the WPIAL 5A final at the Petersen Events Center.

“It's something you dream about,” Recchia said. “It's all for the community. I think we have one of the best supportive communities in Pennsylvania. It's for them, for my teammates, for my coaches who struggle with me all year. I don't even know if I have words for it. It's a dream come true.”

Mars led 4-2 two minutes into the game. That, seemingly, was going to be the Planets' highlight.

Moon took a 16-8 lead after the first quarter and had a 32-18 lead at the half.

The Tigers' defense, which came in giving up a WPIAL-low 46 points per game, showed why they had been so stingy.

Then Mars coach Rob Carmody sent a stern message to his team at halftime.

“I thought in the first half we didn't play as hard as they did. That was all us,” Carmody said. “They did everything harder than us. We went into halftime and we kicked them in the butt a little bit.”

Mars (24-1) stayed in the locker room for almost the entire 10-minute half, coming out mere seconds before the beginning of the third quarter.

It looked at first like the tongue lashing didn't work.

Mars fell behind by as many as 18 points before launching their prodigious rally.

Brandon Caruso had 12 of his 14 points in the second half. And Recchia took over the game with 14 of his game-high 23 in the final two quarters.

“If I can give one word for it, I'd say our team is just tough. We're tough,” Recchia said. “Mentally and physically. We refuse to give up.”

Carmody echoed that sentiment.

Even down by 18 with a scowl on his face on the sideline, the longtime Mars coach said he knew his team had a rally in it.

“How many times have you seen us play over the years?” Carmody asked, smiling. “The DNA of this program is toughness. The first thing we tell our guys is we have to play harder than our opponent. Then it's smart. Then it's together.”

Mars began to chip away at the Moon lead midway through the third. The Planets got the deficit to single-digits with 3:35 remaining at 39-31 and then to two at quarter's end.

Recchia said that was the moment when they knew they had the Tigers on the ropes.

“When we slowly cut it down, that's when we started to get momentum,” Recchia said.

Mars got its first lead since the early moments of the game when Khori Fusco hit a pair of free throws with 4:24 remaining in the game for a 46-45 lead.

The lead changed hands five times before Recchia's deep three hit nothing but net.

“When it left his hands we were on the bench and we said, 'It's going to go in,'” Carmody said.

For Moon (23-2), there could be no more heartbreaking loss.

This is the second consecutive WPIAL title for the Planets.

“We're a program, not a team,” Carmody said. “This is 12 WPIAL playoffs, eight state playoffs, seven straight section championships. Four straight semifinals. Two WPIAL championships.”

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