Mars Planets duo aligns to spark 67-61 victory


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John Castello and Owen Nearhoof occasionally joke that they're the best-looking scoring duo in the WPIAL.

Tuesday, they played in a game that at times wasn't pretty, but the two helped their team look good.

Castello and Nearhoof combined to score 43 points, including nine in overtime, to spark No. 8 Mars to 67-61 victory against No. 9 Steel Valley in a thrilling, WPIAL Class AAA first-round playoff game at West Allegheny.

"This is what you expect from an 8-9 game," Mars coach Rob Carmody exclaimed afterward.

With the score tied, 54-54, at the end of regulation, Mars (15-8) got the best of Steel Valley (15-5) in overtime by forcing a few key turnovers, making 7 of 10 free throws and getting five points from Castello and four from Nearhoof.

Steel Valley was hurt by foul trouble. Three Ironmen starters fouled out in overtime, including top scorers Ajan Smith and Dom Keyes just one second apart.

Mars, which advanced to its first WPIAL semifinal last season, will face No. 1 Chartiers Valley (22-1) in the quarterfinals Friday.

Castello, a 6-foot-4 sophomore forward, finished with 25 points and 14 rebounds.

Nearhoof, a senior guard, had 18.

Another sophomore, Alex Gruber, also played a key role, scoring 14 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter and overtime.

"We're a team that has been in a lot of close games," Nearhoof said. "We don't get scared in those situations. We'd obviously rather be blowing teams out, but, if we don't, we still can find ways to win."

Mars was in control of the game when Castello followed up a Nearhoof miss with a basket with 2:49 left in the third quarter to put the Planets in front, 39-31. Steel Valley, however, scored the final 10 points of the third quarter and the first four of the fourth quarter to take a 45-39 lead.

The Planets then began to slowly cut into the Ironmen's lead. Gruber made the back end of a one-and-one with 3:23 left to forge a 54-54 tie that lasted until overtime.

Ajan Smith was exceptional for Steel Valley, notching 26 points and 13 rebounds. Keyes, a 6-6 junior, scored 14 points, six in the fourth quarter.

Smith scored eight points in the first six minutes to give Steel Valley a 10-3 lead, but Mars turned a few Ironmen miscues into six quick points and trailed just 10-9 after the first quarter. There were nine lead changes in the early stages of the second before Mars used a 9-2 run to go ahead, 26-20 en route to a 28-23 halftime lead.

"We knew coming in it was going to be a good game," Carmody said. "It certainly ended up being one."

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