After entering the playoffs following back-to-back losses and with a record of 2-4 in its final six games, Mars wasn’t on the radar for many when discussing Class 5A championship contenders.
That might change after an impressive showing Friday night by the Planets, headlined by an other-worldly performance by star senior Tasso Sfanos. Never one to force a shot, Sfanos simply played within the flow of the offense and took what came to him — be it a wide-open 3-pointer or a nifty finish in the lane — all while exuding a calm, almost effortless demeanor.
Sfanos finished with 26 points to propel No. 7-seed Mars (15-8) to a 76-40 rout of No. 10 Bethel Park (13-9) at North Hills Middle School. The teams met at a neutral site because the Planets’ gym wasn’t big enough to meet the WPIAL’s postseason requirements.
“The end of the season was tough. We have a terrific league, obviously,” Mars coach Rob Carmody said. “It’s great having a guy like Tasso who has played in a WPIAL championship game, has played in state playoff games — he’s played in big games for us, so it’s nice to have that anchor.
“Everything he did was simple and efficient. … When he is like that, everybody on our team is going to feed from that.”
Not one to be outdone, 6-foot-5 junior forward Ryan Ceh put together a worthy highlight reel of his own, tallying several high-flying blocks as well as a monster dunk that got wiped away by an offensive foul. Ceh finished with 18 points to help shoulder the load with Sfanos.
“We all love Tasso. If we lost, this was our last game [with him], so we didn’t want that to happen,” Ceh said. “It’s family out here.”
Sfanos, who finished No. 8 in the WPIAL with an average of 25.7 points per game in the regular season, came out on a mission with 12 points in the opening quarter. He converted two 3-pointers while also getting to the basket seamlessly — in transition and in the Planets’ half-court offense. Mars knocked down four consecutive 3-pointers to open the game before a scoop layup by Sfanos gave the Planets a 14-7 lead. By the end of the quarter, Mars already had a 23-9 advantage and firm control of the game.
Ceh did most of the damage in the second quarter, making his presence felt on both ends of the floor while showcasing a smooth jumper to go with his dunking and shot-blocking ability. After having his dunk that would have given the Planets a 27-9 lead wiped off the board, Ceh responded with a layup and 3-pointer to make it a 32-14 advantage midway through the quarter.
“Not only on the offensive side — he became a factor on the boards, he blocked a couple shots,” Carmody said. “Whether I liked the call or not, it is what it is. It’s Ryan’s job to now move past it, and I thought he did a great job of that for us.”
Mars took a 40-25 lead into the half before Ceh finally got the dunk he desired in the third quarter, intercepting a pass in transition and taking it all the way for a thunderous slam. The Planets held a commanding 59-30 lead going into the final quarter, and Carmody eventually emptied his bench with his team leading, 73-37, with 2:41 to play.
“Our goal was to contest and challenge the 3s and make them make tough 2s, and that obviously didn’t materialize,” Bethel Park coach Dante Calabria said. “It happens. They’re a good team and well-coached. … They’re well balanced. Their leader and the rest of them know their roles, and they played really well.”
With the win, Mars advances to face No. 2-seeded Penn Hills Wednesday in a WPIAL quarterfinal clash. And with Sfanos and Ceh leading the way — plus a proven coach such as Carmody with 396 wins and counting — it wouldn’t be wise not to count out these Planets.
“It’s just fun to play with these guys. I love playing with them,” Sfanos said about his high school journey nearing its end. “Everyone says it goes quick, but it really does.”
For WPIAL postseason basketball brackets, results and schedules, go here: https://www.wpial.org/2023-wpial-basketball-tournament-central/