HOLLIDAYSBURG — York High’s goal of winning its first boys’ basketball state title in program history came to an end Tuesday night.

The Bearcats trailed by six points midway through the fourth quarter, but they couldn’t complete the comeback in a 60-59 loss to Mars in the second round of the PIAA Class 5-A tournament. Mars came into the game ranked No. 1 in the state in 5-A.

“I thought we played very hard and competed at a high level,” said York High head coach Clovis Gallon Sr.  “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to come out on top today. I thought we were the better team, but the scoreboard would say otherwise.”

York High trailed 60-57 with four seconds remaining and Gallon Sr. called a play for Clovis Gallon Jr. to get a look from behind the arc. Despite being guarded by two Mars players, Gallon Jr.’s acrobatic 3-point attempt hit the rim and the backboard but rolled off the rim. The miss was tipped in by York High, but the buzzer sounded soon after to end the Bearcats’ season.

“We were looking to get an open 3,” Gallon Jr. said. “I got it up there. It looked good from my view, but it just came up short.”

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Mars starts slow: The Bearcats, which represented District 3 as its third-place finisher, came out of the gate at Hollidaysburg High School clicking and took a 14-9 lead after the first quarter. 

The Fightin’ Planets (26-1), which represented District 7 as its champion, struggled in the first half, but the Bearcats couldn’t take full advantage and only led 26-22 at halftime.

“We thought we should have been up double digits,” Gallon Sr. said. “I think for a small segment (in the second quarter), we got away from our game plan. … We didn’t want to shoot (outside shots). We wanted to continue running our offense and get to the basket, because they hadn’t figured it out yet.”

Foul-riddled second half: Mars took the lead late in the third quarter and led by as many as six in the second half. Both teams were in foul trouble during the game, but the foul disparity was large in the second half. With about a minute remaining, York High had committed 14 fouls to Mars' four.

The Planets outshot the Bearcats 30-18 from the free-throw line. Twenty-five of Mars’ 60 points came from the charity stripe. Andrew Recchia, who led all scorers with 23 points, made 11 of 12 free throws in the fourth quarter for the Planets. Mars only needed two made baskets in the final period to hold on to win.

“The whistle changed (in the second half),” Gallon Sr. said. “It was weird; (there were) a lot of touch fouls. We did our best to adjust the best we can, but I don’t know if you can adjust to a foul that isn’t a foul. Our guys continued to compete. We didn’t cry ... We just rotated guys and adjusted the best we could.”

Fourth-quarter comeback comes up short: Despite trailing six points midway through the final period, the Bearcats battled back to take a brief lead and give themselves a chance at the end. Jaevon Woodyard made a crucial 3-pointer, and Branden Mutunga scored six points in the fourth quarter after Marquise McClean fouled out.

“We competed to the end,” Gallon Jr. said. “We fought. No matter what, when we left the court, no one can say we didn’t scratch and claw at the end of the game.”

Senior class: Gallon Sr. praised his nine-player senior class that led York High (24-5) to a York-Adams League Division I title, a Y-A League tournament title, a District 3 semifinal appearance and a state playoff berth.

“I told the kids after the game that I was proud of them and proud of this journey we traveled together,” Gallon Sr. said. “This is going to give them a learning experience for the rest of their lives, and they’ll always be able to walk in our gym and see their year up on the banners.”

Gallon Jr. said playing this season with his fellow seniors — McClean, Seth Bernstein, Edward Minter, Woodyard, Dayvon Cortez, Marquez Hill, Arman White and Tamir Beard. — is something none of them will ever forget.

“It was fun,” Gallon Jr. said. “A lot of the guys on the team, we grew up together since we were in elementary school. … We all planned to play for York High, to win a county championship, win a district championship and win a state championship. We came up short, but I’m still proud of our team because a lot of people didn’t think we’d get this far.”

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