SHARON — Mars has grown accustomed to some serious hand-wringing in the playoffs.
Friday night was a little different for the Planets.
Shooting 14 of 16 from the floor in the second half will calm any frayed nerves. Nursing a double-digit lead for the better part of the fourth quarter will bring serenity to even the most intense coach and players.
The Mars boys basketball team got to take a deep breath in the final moments of a playoff game for once, cruising to a 73-57 win over Meadville in the PIAA 5A quarterfinals at Sharon High School.
“Honestly, if we can get that every game, we'll take it,” said smiling Mars point guard Andrew Recchia, who was again brilliant handling the ball and shooting free throws in crunch time. He finished with a team-leading 19 points and was 8-for-8 at the charity stripe.
“I think with the guards we have with me, Brandon (Caruso) and Khori (Fusco) handling the ball, it plays into our hands so well and we can extend leads.”
Mars (27-1) never trailed, jumping out to a 6-0 lead and a 15-7 advantage after the first quarter. Meadville (19-7) missed its first eight shots in the game.
Still, the Planets led by only four at 27-23 at the half.
But the final 12 minutes belonged exclusively to Mars.
The most tense things got for the Planets was when Meadville tied the game at 35-35 with 4:15 left in the third quarter.
But Mars responded immediately when Recchia rattled in a 3-pointer on the Planets' next trip down the floor.
A five-point lead at the end of the third quarter swelled to an 11-point advantage four minutes later and Meadville never got within 10 again.
Mars had five players score in double-digits. Fusco added 16, Michael Carmody 13 and Caruso and freshman Zach Schlegel each had 10.
“In the third and fourth quarters, our whole team broke loose,” said Mars coach Rob Carmody. “We did so many things well. I think our guys were excited about the opportunity to get to a Final Four again and they played like it.”
Fusco and Schlegel keyed the fourth-quarter surge.
Schlegel scored eight points in the fourth and took a key charge on the defensive end. Fusco scored 10 in the final quarter, including two rim-rattling dunks.
“Zoo — sorry, that's what we call (Schlegel) — hit two big 3s for us,” Recchia said. “So proud of him.”
Schlegel provided a spark after struggling a bit in the playoffs.
“He's had a good year for us,” Carmody said. “He's the reason why we won a couple of games. He's a freshman — he was playing junior high basketball last year. I think he hit a wall, but tonight you saw him smile and have fun again.”
Fusco's job Friday against Meadville wasn't exactly fun, but needed.
The 6-foot-3 Fusco drew the important assignment of guarding the Bulldogs' 6-8 forward Lashon Lindsey.
Lindsey did end up with a game-high 22, but 11 of them came in the fourth when the game was essentially out of reach.
“We tasked Khori with guarding the all-time leading scorer at Meadville and I thought he did an outstanding job,” Carmody said. “It wore on him a little offensively, but in the second half you saw Khori find his energy a little bit.”
Fusco also had a security blanket in Michael Carmody behind him, guarding the hoop.
“Mike's defense is very, very underrated,” Rob Carmody said. “He allows us, even with his size, to get out and guard people so we can kind of dictate matchups. We thought Khori's quickness, length and toughness was a better matchup.”
Now Mars will have a familiar matchup in the semifinals when it takes on Moon Monday at a site and time to be determined.
Mars overcame an 18-point deficit to beat Moon in the WPIAL final two weeks ago.
Just being in the semifinals was something few outside of the Planets' gym thought possible before the season started.
But Mars has 27 wins — the most in school history — a 22-game winning streak and another shot at getting to Hershey and the state title game.
Mars lost there three years ago and again last year.
“I was a freshman and I think we were 26-3 and made it to the state championship game for the first time,” Recchia said. “I remember thinking, 'Wow, this is a dream. I want to play in Hershey.' Now we have the most wins in school history and it's humbling, honestly.
“At the beginning of the year no one thought we'd be 27-1,” Recchia said. “I thought we could compete for a state championship. That was our goal.”
Davyon Butler 0-1 0-0 0, Lemaro Husband 6-11 0-0 14, Lashon Lindsey 8-20 6-8 22, Keeon Lindsey 3-8 0-0 10, Shane McElhinny 1-5 0-0 2, Charlie Waid 3-3 0-0 7, Aiden Miller 2-2 0-2 4, Jontae Brown 0-0 0-0 0, Reese Pero 0-2 0-1 0, Nashon Ferraro 0-0 0-0 0. Totals: 23-52 6-11 57.
Khori Fusco 6-10 4-4 16, Michael Carmody 4-8 5-6 13, Anderew Recchia 5-12 8-8 19, Joe Craska 0-0 0-0 0, Brandon Caruso 4-6 2-4 10, Mihali Sfanos 2-7 0-0 5, Zach Schlegel 4-4 0-0 10. Totals: 25-47 19-22 73.
Meadville 7 16 18 16 — 57
Mars15 12 19 27 — 73
3-point goals: Husband 5, K.Lindsey 2, Waid; Recchia 4, Sfanos, Schlegel
Monday: PIAA 5A semifinal-Mars vs. Moon, site and time TBA