Laurel loses big lead, falls to Washington
Laurel (54) Vs. Washington (60)
Feb 17, 2016
By Shawn Fox
New Castle News

IMPERIAL – A laugher turned into a heartbreaker for the Laurel High boys basketball team.

The Spartans built a 24-point first-half lead Thursday night, but couldn’t withstand a furious rally by eighth-seeded Washington as the Little Prexies posted a 60-54 victory in the first round of the WPIAL Class AA playoffs at West Allegheny High School.

“Our guys did a tremendous job of attacking them in the first half, and defensively we were really active,” Laurel coach Ken Locke said. “Obviously, I don’t think it was one of Washington’s better halves of shooting the basketball, but I think some of that had to do with what our guys were doing.

“In the second half, I’m not so sure (Washington) made too many adjustments. They went back to their 1-2-2 (zone) defense at the end of the first half. They were able to make a run on us, and we weren’t able to attack it. For whatever reason, we kind of got comfortable with the lead and got a little tentative. Once they started to make a run they got some confidence, and to their credit, we couldn’t stop them.”

The first 14 minutes of the contest belonged to ninth-seeded Laurel.

After Markel Pulliam scored on a drive to get Washington on the board, the Spartans went on a 15-0 run over the next five minutes. Scott Siddall powered the Spartans during the spurt by scoring nine of his game-high 22 points. Jordan Dantico and Mason Mraz chipped in with four points apiece.

The Prexies (17-6) got a pair of inside buckets from Nathan Swart and Matt Popeck to cut the deficit to 17-6 after one quarter.

Laurel kept its foot on the gas in the first five minutes of the second quarter, outscoring Washington 15-2 during that span. Siddall again had the hot hand for the Spartans, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers among his 10 points in the stanza.

After Siddall’s second trey of the quarter gave the Spartans a 32-8 lead with 2:03 remaining before the half, the Prexies began their rally.

Anthony Popeck’s two free throws with 1:57 to go in the first half, ignited a mini 10-2 run that closed out the first half and trimmed Laurel’s lead to 34-18. Anthony Popeck canned a pair of threes, including one as the horn sounded, to highlight the run.

“I think that was very important because it made the numbers on the scoreboard look better,” Washington coach Ron Faust said. “I kept wondering if we were going to hit double digits. It ended up that we executed a few things there at the end of the half.”

That run proved to be a harbinger of things to come, as the Prexies were able to draw to within six points, 44-38, after three quarters. Matt Popeck’s 10 points led Washington's 20-10 third-quarter advantage.

“You can’t play to the scoreboard,” Faust said. “The only thing we did want to do in the second half was attack the basket more to possibly get on the free throw line and extend the game. It was the kids, not me. It was nothing I did at halftime.”

The Prexies continued to cut into the Spartan’s lead in the opening three minutes of the fourth quarter, tying the score at 46-46 with 5:03 left on the clock on a pair of free throws from Pulliam.

Washington took its first lead since the early 2-0 advantage with 2:36 to go in the contest on a drive by Pulliam. A pair Pulliam foul shots and a layup off a turnover by Matt Popeck gave the Prexies a 55-51 lead with 51 seconds remaining.

Laurel drew to within three points — 57-54 — on a pair of Jake Wilson free throws with 22 seconds remaining, but got no closer as the Prexies hit three of six foul shots down the stretch to seal the victory.

“I wish I knew what we did differently,” Faust said of his team’s second-half surge. “I would have done it before the game started. It’s a funny game. Our team is the kind of team that at times I’m extremely frustrated with them and would like to reprimand them, yet at the same time they’re so darn resilient. We’ve done this all year. We just came out and played in the second half. We talked at halftime about leaving the game with a good feeling. There’s no better feeling than winning.”

Mraz finished with a double-double for the Spartans with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Dantico added 12 points.

Matt Popeck led the Prexies with 18 points. Pulliam had 17 and Anthony Popeck 14. Swart grabbed 10 rebounds.

The loss ended Laurel’s season at 17-6. It marked the final game for seniors Siddall, Wilson, Tyler Skerbetz and Colton Brown. Siddall (1,312 points) and Wilson (1,168) ended their careers among the top scorers in Spartans’ history. Mraz, a junior, is also a member of the 1,000-point club, finishing the season with 1,062 career points.

“This group is special because when coach (Mike) Conglose and I walked in the door four years ago, these are the guys that walked in with us,” Locke said. “It’s disappointing for them and disappointing for me as a coach. You wish there was something you could have done different for them, especially when you were in the position we were in with the lead we had. It’s bittersweet. We’re definitely not ready for these guys to go. But, unfortunately we didn’t get the job done.”

Washington will face top-seeded Aliquippa (23-0) in the quarterfinals Saturday. The Quips topped East Allegheny, 57-32, last night.

Nightly Roundup
Feb 17, 2016 Nightly Roundups
Game Scoreboard
Laurel 17 17 10 10 0 54
Washington 6 12 20 22 0 60
Box Scores
Jordan Dantico 6 0-0 12
Tyler Skerbetz 0 0-0 0
Scott Siddall 8 2-2 22
Jake Wilson 1 5-6 7
Mason Mraz 5 2-4 13
Coltin Esposito 0 0-0 0
Zach Sickafuse 0 0-0 0
Colton Brown 0 0-0 0
Totals: 20 9-11 54

Markel Pulliam 7 3-5 17
Matt Popeck 7 1-4 18
Nathan Swart 2 2-5 6
Anthony Popeck 4 4-4 14
Isaiah Perry 0 0-0 0
Tariq Wilson 0 1-2 1
Isaiah Robinson 2 0-0 4
Jordan Swart 0 0-0 0
Totals: 22 11-20- 60

LAUREL 17 17 10 10 — 54
WASHINGTON 6 12 20 22 — 60

3-point goals – Laurel 5 (Siddall 4, Mraz 1), Washington 5 (M. Popeck 3, A. Popeck 2).
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