There aren’t many rivalries in the WPIAL quite like Uniontown-Laurel Highlands. The schools are located less than two miles apart, and Laurel Highlands High School is actually located in Uniontown.
The rivalry on the court dates to the 1960s, but it’s hard to imagine there have been better games than the one that was played Tuesday.
In front of a raucous crowd, Uniontown went on the road and knocked off defending WPIAL champion Laurel Highlands, 61-57, in double overtime.
Uniontown (14-1, 5-0) upped its winning streak to 13 games while moving into sole possession of first place in Class 4A Section 3. But while one streak continued, a pair of longtime ones came to an end. Laurel Highlands (11-2, 4-1) had won 28 consecutive home games and 24 straight section games. The Mustangs had not suffered a home or section loss since Rodney Gallagher’s freshman season.
“It was a great win and, more importantly, we got to play in that type of environment,” said Uniontown coach Rob Kezmarsky. “I’ve played in this game and coached in this game, but I don’t know if I’ve ever been in an overtime game like that. I know not double.”
Kezmarsky and Laurel Highlands coach Rick Hauger are both former Laurel Highlands players. Uniontown snapped what had been a four-game losing streak to the Mustangs, the Red Raiders’ last win in the series coming in 2020.
“I felt like we had something to prove,” Uniontown sophomore guard Calvin Winfrey said. “We came in as an underdog. And we came out and showed them we’re a top WPIAL team in Class 4A.”
In a game that featured star players like Gallagher, teammate Keondre DeShields and Uniontown’s Notorious Grooms, it was an unheralded player who made two of Uniontown’s biggest baskets. Senior Levi Garner came off the bench when K’Adrian McLee fouled out in the second overtime. Garner’s bucket tied the game, 56-56, and then scored on a layup on Uniontown’s next possession to put the Red Raiders in front by two with just over a minute left. Those two baskets were his only points of the game.
“Levi Garner played against Belle Vernon and won the game for us coming off the bench when K’Adrian got into foul trouble,” Kezmarsky said. “Tonight, K’Adrian had the game of his life, and then when he fouled out, Levi didn’t pout on the bench. He came in here and helped win the game for his team.”
Gallagher has shown time and again that he is one of the most clutch players in the WPIAL, but he came up short on several attempts to tie or win the game Tuesday. He misfired on 3-point attempts at the end of regulation and the first overtime, and then went 0 of 2 from the free-throw line following Garner’s second basket in double overtime. Laurel Highlands’ Patrick Cavanagh made 1 of 2 from the line to cut Uniontown’s lead to 58-57 with 37 seconds to go, but Winfrey knocked down two from the line and, after Gallagher missed a 3-pointer, Tanner Uphold made it a two-possession game by making 1 of 2 free throws with 2.2 seconds left.
“It was a heck of a game. I just wish it had a different ending,” Hauger said.
Winfrey led Uniontown with 16 points, McLee had 15, and Grooms added 10.
Gallagher scored 21 points for Laurel Highlands and DeShields added 19. DeShields fouled out just 20 seconds into the second overtime.
“Obviously, I felt at that point that they would put more pressure on Rodney for sure because that would be the logical thing to do, which they did,” Hauger said. “I thought we got enough good shots. I’m going to venture to say we had our worst shooting night of the year.”
The 57 points scored by Laurel Highlands’ were its second-fewest this season.
In a game that saw nine lead changes, Uniontown took its biggest lead when it went on a 9-0 run that extended from the final seconds of the third quarter to three minutes into the fourth. Winfrey connected on a desperation heave to give Uniontown a 40-39 lead heading into the final quarter. McLee then scored on a follow, Jamire Braxton made a 3-pointer, and Winfrey went 1 of 2 from the line to give the Red Raiders a 46-39 advantage.
However, Laurel Highlands rallied and actually took a 51-50 lead on DeShields’ basket with 47 seconds left in the fourth. Grooms followed by making one of two free throws with 19 seconds left to force overtime.
Uniontown didn’t help itself at the free-throw line. The Red Raiders were 11 of 24, including 4 of 12 in the two overtimes.
Winfrey came up big, not only with the two free throws late in the second overtime, but he also knocked down a shot with 33 seconds left in the first overtime that knotted the score at 54.
“I knew late in the game I was going to knock them down because I’m not missing any in crunch time,” Winfrey said.
Uniontown as a team came through in crunch time, giving the Red Raiders arguably their biggest win in years.
“We went on the road and beat Belle Vernon. We went on the road and beat Laurel Highlands,” Kezmarsky said. “We just need to learn from this and get better.”