Plum girls remain in playoff hunt

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Monday, February 5, 2018 | 11:00 PM


With only one senior, one returning starter, several young players and several questions entering the season, first-year Plum girls basketball coach Steve Elsier said he wondered how this season would develop.

The team has gone through the expected growing pains, but, Elsier said, they have grown.

Now, the Mustangs are on the verge of a WPIAL playoff spot.

But they have a little more business to complete.

“The girls have adapted well to what we wanted them to do in the system,” Elsier said. “We run a matchup zone defensively, and we have executed well on the defensive end. We've been holding teams to around 20 percent shooting in a number of games. We just have to avoid giving up second- and third-chance opportunities.”

The week began with Franklin Regional and Plum tied for the fourth and final playoff spot in Section 4-5A at 3-7 with two games left to play.

Kiski Area also was alive at 3-8 as it entered Monday's section finale against first-place and Class 5A No. 2 Hampton. The Cavaliers needed to spring the upset to remain in the chase.

Franklin Regional visited Mars (9-1) on Monday, and Plum hosted Armstrong (6-4) on Tuesday.

All three games ended after the deadline for this week's edition.

Plum controls its own destiny, and even with a loss to Armstrong, all it needs is to beat Franklin Regional on Thursday at Franklin Regional High School, and it's in the postseason.

“We couldn't afford to look ahead at any point this season,” Elsier said. “I never look at the details of things in the section, but I knew that if we took care of business, we would be OK.”

Elsier said that last Thursday's 36-34, come-from-behind victory at Indiana, which kept Plum's playoff hopes alive, was indicative of the mentality the team needs to have at this time of the season.

“We were down most of the game,” he said. “Indiana came out and led all the way into the third quarter. We were able to maintain our composure. We came back, and it was a big growth game for us mentally that when we're down, we're not out.”

The win snapped an overall four-game losing streak, including three in a row in section.

“We have looked at this season one game at a time,” Elsier said. “We, as coaches, needed to make sure the girls understood that there were games left, and if we win these games, we're in the playoffs. That started with the Indiana game and continues into this week.”

Plum holds the advantage over Franklin Regional should the chase for fourth place and the final playoff spot come down to a tiebreaker between the teams.

The Mustangs won the first meeting with the Panthers, 46-37, on Jan. 16 as they rallied from a three-point halftime deficit. Young players stepped up in that game as sophomore Mackenzie Lake scored 12 points, and freshman Kennedie Montue tallied a game-best 22.

“Kennedie's starting to figure out that there are games where she can score 20 or more points,” Elsier said.

“Against a team like Indiana, which is so guard oriented, she scored 17. She could've, quite honestly, had another seven or eight points. Against Mars, there were times where the ball hadn't gotten to Kennedie, and there were four girls collapsing down on her in their man-to-man defense. She continues to grow in terms of recognizing when she has a shot and when she can kick it out to an open shooter.”

Plum, regardless of how it finishes in the race for the playoffs, wraps up the regular season Monday with a nonsection home game against Oakland Catholic.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

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