Plum, Riverview girls basketball teams control own destinies for playoffs
By: Michael Love
Wednesday, February 7, 2018 | 8:24 PM
The Plum and Riverview girls basketball teams have followed similar paths this season.
Both began with only one senior, several young starters and questions as to how far each could rise in their quest for the WPIAL playoffs.
Mustangs first-year coach Steve Elsier and veteran Raiders coach Keith Stitt said they noticed growth from individual players and their teams as a whole.
The teams are on the doorstep of qualifying for the postseason, and both control their playoff possibilities for their respective section finales.
“We were hoping to be in this position,” Stitt said. “That's the goal every year: to make the playoffs and go from there. You like to think you are getting better through the course of the season. I think we've come on strong the past couple of weeks.”
Riverview, winner of four of its past five, will qualify for the Class 2A playoffs with a win Friday at home against rival Springdale or a Northgate loss at Sto-Rox the same night.
The Raiders are 6-7 in the Section 2 standings and tied for fourth place with the Flames. The teams split their season series, and both would qualify for the playoffs if they finished tied.
It's a winner-take-all scenario for the fourth playoff spot in Section 4-5A between when Franklin Regional hosts Plum at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday.
The Mustangs and Panthers are 3-8 in section play. Plum won the first meeting 46-37 on Jan. 16 behind a game-best 22 points from freshman forward Kennedie Montue.
“It's a big game for the girls, no matter what's on the line,” Elsier said. “Franklin Regional is a big rival, and they will be a good challenge. We have to be prepared.”
Plum was in position to clinch a playoff spot with a win Tuesday, but it lost to playoff-bound Armstrong.
“We need to play as a team,” said Montue, Plum's leading scorer at 12.9 points per game. “Everybody has to do their job. If we do that, we can be successful. It's already happened this season.”
Riverview, 10-9 overall, battled through ups and downs, but its late-season surge included Monday's key section victory at Northgate that put the teams in their fourth-place tie.
Alyssa Cappa led the way with 14 points, and Sydney McDonough and Mackenzie Smail added 11 points apiece.
“It's always tough to win on the road, and Northgate is a really good team. They brought everyone back from last year,” Stitt said. “The girls won that game (Monday) with heart and grit and were very resilient.
“Sto-Rox made the playoffs last year and had a couple of girls returning. We knew that Sto-Rox and Northgate were two teams we were going to have to beat, no doubt.”
Vincentian (13-0), Leechburg (11-2) and Brentwood (10-3) are the top three teams from the section.
“We knew going into the season that we were lumped into a section that's pretty doggone good,” Stitt said. “They are three of the top five in the classification in the WPIAL, and I just saw that Vincentian and Leechburg are two of the top 10 in the state.”
Plum stayed in the playoff chase last week with a 36-34 road win over Indiana to finish a season sweep of the Indians. The victory also snapped a four-game losing skid, including three in a row in section.
Elsier said the win over Indiana — Plum rallied from a deficit — was indicative of the focus the team needs at this point of the season.
“It was a big growth game for us mentally that when we're down, we're not out,” he said.
The Mustangs hope to make the postseason for the second year in a row after missing the playoffs in 2016.
“It comes down to playing hard, executing the game plan, getting good looks at the basket and knocking down shots,” said Plum sophomore Mackenzie Lake, second on the team in scoring at 7.8 ppg.
“We can't worry about anything else other than just playing well. We can't get too anxious about being close to the playoffs.”