Defensive effort leads Highlands boys to blowout of Plum

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Tuesday, January 19, 2021 | 9:18 PM


When the Highlands Golden Rams took the court for the second time this season Tuesday, they were ready to make another statement after taking down then-No. 1 Mars last Friday on a late 3-pointer.

Behind an intense defensive effort, the Golden Rams (2-0, 2-0 Section 4-5A) outscored Plum (1-2, 0-2) by 21 points in the first quarter and never looked back as they cruised to a 59-25 victory over the Mustangs.

“I think we shot 4 of 20 on Friday, and that’s not indicative of what our guys can do,” Highlands coach Tyler Stoczynski said. “That was showing tonight. We were really unselfish with the basketball. We were taking really good shots, and when you do that and you play unselfishly and you play for your teammates, you’re going to get great shots.”

After losing three seniors from last season’s WPIAL Class 4A championship team, Stoczynski knew the Golden Rams were going to have to change how they played.

They were going to have to replace the scoring of Johnny Crise, Luke Cochran and Korry Myers with a team effort, but they were also going to have to be the hardest-working team every time they stepped on the court.

“Everyone has to take a little more responsibility on both ends of the floor, and they have really bought into the fact that when we make shots, we are going to be really hard to beat,” Stoczynski said. “When we put that together with how hard we play, we can do something nice this year.”

In the first quarter Tuesday, seven players scored for Highlands as it built a 7-1 lead and extended it to 24-3 before the end of the quarter. But it didn’t just play well offensively: It created nine turnovers in the first half.

“That’s just what we do,” senior guard Dom Pesci said. “I play with a chip on my shoulder, I’m always looking to get a stop.”

Sophomore guard Jimmy Kunst scored a team-high 14 points. Antoine McDaniel added 11, and Carter Leri scored 10. Five other players also got into the box score.

“We got our first game under our belt, and we were able to settle down and really talk about some things that we could correct on the next day,” Stoczynski said about his team’s ability to improve offensively from Friday to Tuesday. “Our guys did a really good job of executing the gameplan, and I’m just proud of how hard they played again. We always want to be the hardest-playing team on the floor.”

After taking a 22-point lead into halftime, the Golden Rams exploded for another big quarter in the third as they scored 21 points and cruised from there.

Connor Moss led Plum with nine points, and Tarasi Means added seven.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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