Mars' Mitchell Buzard reaches to keep the ball inbounds against Montour's Justin Hill Feb. 26 during the WPIAL semifinal. Mars lost to eventual Class AAA champion Montour, but the Planets qualified for the PIAA tournament.
By Joe Koch Tri-State Sports & News Service
Mars Area coach Rob Carmody prefers that his players not look back as the Planets plow through the "second season" that is the WPIAL Class AAA boys basketball tournament and prepare for an anticipated long run in the statewide contests.
"I'd love to sit back and enjoy [our success]," he said before the Planets lost, 61-52, to Montour in the WPIAL semifinals last week at Moon Area Senior High.
Despite the loss, Mars qualified for the PIAA tournament (six WPIAL teams qualify, the four semifinalists and the two teams that lost in the quarterfinals to the finalists).
The Planets will play Girard at 8 p.m. Friday at Gannon University.
"The kids have put so much effort into [the season], but we have some games to play," said the 15-year head coach, who played for legendary coach Don Graham at North Catholic High and later assisted him at the Troy Hill school where the basketball court bears Graham's name.
"We're always looking for ways to improve, so we're not going to dwell on our accomplishments," Carmody said. "We're just going to try to get better, but we are thrilled where we are, and we're excited with where we could go."
The Planets field a team that is balanced offensively, averaging 68.2 points a game. And they are stingy on defense, yielding just 47.6 points a game.
Key to their success has been the leadership displayed by Mitchell Buzard, a 6-foot-1 senior guard who is one of the team's leading scorers, averaging 13 points a game.
"Mitch was voted the team's most valuable player last year when he was a junior," Carmody said. "He's one of those players who is one of those 100 percent attendance kids. He never missed coming to open gym, and he was there for every game of our summer and fall leagues. We're always asking him to give more, and he always does. He has the ability to get to the rim, but he's also a great outside shooter."
In a 79-55 victory against Uniontown in a quarterfinal game played Feb. 22 at Baldwin, Buzard scored 18 points.
Fellow senior Josh Goetz, a 6-8 center, led the Planets with 20 points and 22 rebounds.
"That's the second time this season [Josh] has had 20 or more points and 20 or more rebounds in a game," Carmody said. "He has just completely transformed himself as a basketball player. He's 6 feet 8, weighs 235 pounds, can rebound and run the floor. And he hits 75 percent from the free-throw line. He's also developed a nice hook shot, and he's been a key to our success."
Goetz also is averaging 13 points a game. Three other Mars players -- Matt Getsy (12 ppg), Owen Nearhoof (10.8 ppg) and Zach May (10.8 ppg) -- average more than 10 points a game.
"There's a reason why we're so balanced, and that's because Garrett Ashbaugh runs our offense," Carmody said. "He's a very unselfish player, who is averaging about six points and eight assists per game. He's always guarding the best player on the other team regardless of their size. He has a great attitude and puts forth a lot of effort. And he's the reason why we have five guys scoring in double figures."
In the three years Ashbaugh, a 6-0 senior, has been the Planets' point guard, Mars has won 57 games.
"We won 18 games [in each of the previous two seasons], and we've won 21 games so far this year," Carmody said. "He started for us when he was a sophomore, and he's always doing something right. Garrett is just a winner, and he makes things go for us."
Last year was the first year Mars qualified for the PIAA Class AAA tournament, and the Planets have qualified for this year's statewide playoffs again.
"We won a play-in game against Oliver and then lost to Johnstown in the first round [last year]," Carmody recalled. "I think every experience we've had has helped us become more experienced. We didn't have any seniors last year, and most of these guys have played together since they were sophomores."
There's also the matter of living up to the standards of other Mars teams.
"Some of the guys play other sports," the coach said. "The football team won its conference, the girls volleyball team won a WPIAL championship, the girls soccer team won a WPIAL championship, and the boys soccer team lost in the WPIAL final.
"Owen and Garrett were football players, and the guys have friends who played on the boys soccer team. So we want to be a team that keeps the success of Mars athletics going."