STATE COLLEGE >> Archbishop Carroll didn’t want to find itself in a shootout in its PIAA Class 5A semifinal game Saturday.
Unfortunately, the Patriots had no choice against Mars Area High.
“They could not miss,” junior Harlem Jennings said.
One might say the Fighting Planets — yes, that’s really what they’re called — were at times hitting shots from another galaxy.
Lauren Wasylson buried back-to-back triples from NBA range during a third-quarter run that showcased Mars’ shooting prowess. The team converted on five of its six 3-point field goal attempts in the quarter, burying the Patriots along the way.
Led by Tai Johnson’s 23 points, Mars shot 8 for 13 from beyond the arc en route to a 52-39 win, leaving Carroll two victories shy of what would have been the program’s third state title.
“They shot the lights out. They played better than we did and certainly shot better than we did today,” Carroll coach Renie Shields said. “What are you going to do? They couldn’t miss.”
Shields said she felt Tai Johnson would not have much problem getting to the rim. She had the Patriots wary of Wasylson’s shooting skills.
“But we didn’t think (Alek Johnson) would step up and make as many 3s as she did,” Shields said. “It really messed up our defensive scheme. Our kids were like, ‘what’s happening?’ It sort of forced us to step back defensively.”
Mars went on a 10-0 tear in the first quarter and led 16-4 early in the second period. Tai Johnson sparked the run with eight points in the opening quarter. The fast start by rattled Archbishop Carroll, a two-time PIAA championship program from District 12’s Philadelphia Catholic League.
Mars (23-6) never relinquished control. Led by Johnson’s 15 points on 7 of 10 shooting, the Planets held a 25-13 advantage at halftime. Carroll (19-7) never made a run, as leading scorer and senior guard Molly Masciantonio was limited to two points on 1-for-4 shooting in the first. Mary deSimone’s 3-pointer cut Mars’ deficit to nine points with four minutes to play before halftime, but Carroll never got closer.
“The first half really didn’t go well for us,” Masciantonio said. “We started hitting shots in the second. I feel like if we had one more quarter, we could have put it together. “
Mars shot 11 of 19 from the field in the first half. Unfortunately for Carroll, Mars was only getting started.
Wasylson knocked down two triples from NBA range as Mars began the third quarter on a 9-2 tear. Carroll simply couldn’t keep pace with Mars’ quick ball movement and long range. In the third quarter the Planets made 5 of 6 shots from beyond the arc. Wasylson and Johnson each had two 3s in the quarter.
“We were focused on stopping (Tai Johnson) and (Wasylson), we knew they could shoot and they are great players,” Jennings said. “But (Alek Johnson) had a great game, too, and we didn’t really think about her. They shot well, they dribbled well, they played defense. They just came to play and we … it just wasn’t really our day. It was one of those days, I guess. We played our hearts out and played for each other, and that’s all you can ask for. We made it really far but we also played a really good team today.”
Tai Johnson netted a game-high 22 points by driving to the basket and hitting a trio of 3-point baskets. Wasylson added 13 points and seven rebounds, Alek Johnson had eight points and forward Bella Pelaia chipped in with eight points, five rebounds and three assists for the Planets.
Sophomore Erin Sweeney scored seven of Carroll’s 10 points in the third quarter. She finished with nine points. Jennings tossed in five points to go with three assists.
Masciantonio, a 1,000-point scorer who averages 16 points per game, heated up in the fourth quarter but it was too late. She buried four 3-pointers and scored 12 of her team-high 16 points in the final stanza.
Overall, though, Carroll never could settle in on offense. The Patriots stumbled to a 15 of 43 performance from the field and were outrebounded 27-15.
“The rhythm was never there for us today,” Shields said. “I feel bad for Molly and the seniors. She had a tremendous four years here, especially over the last two.
All of the seniors. We had a very good group here, it’s a shame we fell a little short. It stinks.”
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