Penn Hills girls use strong defense to complete section sweep of Plum

Thursday, February 2, 2023 | 10:11 PM

Penn Hills girls basketball coach Robert Cash didn’t tell his team that a win would keep them alive in the postseason race.

He didn’t want to put any undue pressure on them and just wanted them to go out and play.

“We just talked about going out and getting a win,” Cash said.

“We didn’t tell them what was at stake. We just said it was a game that we can win and that we needed to give our best effort.”

With an excellent defensive effort the Indians did go out and get a win and clouded the Section 1-5A playoff picture in the process.

The Indians held the Mustangs to single digits in each of the first three quarters and earned a 46-32 victory Thursday night.

Penn Hills (8-10, 5-6) completed a season sweep of Plum (11-8, 5-5) and moved to within a half game of Plum in the standings.

Plum would have clinched a playoff spot with a win, but now the Mustangs are a part of a four-team quagmire with Kiski Area, Penn Hills and Franklin Regional for two spots.

The Indians deployed a 2-3 zone for the duration of the game, and it was effective. Plum was held to two field goals in each of the first three quarters and hit only one 3-pointer.

Penn Hills held Plum’s leading scorer, Megan Marston, to seven points.

“The 2-3 zone is something that we figured out has worked for us,” Cash said. “For (Marston), it’s a really good defense because she’s such a great shooter.

“Last year, she scored pretty well on us, but this year in both games I felt like we did a good job of finding her and limiting her open looks and instead giving her tough shots that if she hits we just have to live with.”

Plum had a similar shooting effort against Franklin Regional last week but caught fire in the fourth quarter to rally for a win. The Mustangs couldn’t muster that magic Thursday.

“(The 2-3 zone) was nothing that we haven’t seen throughout the year or anything we haven’t worked against, but you have to hit shots here and there and finish,” Plum coach Rich Mull said. “We didn’t do either of those things. They got some second-chance opportunities, and I really think that’s why it went the way it did.

“We didn’t do a good job on the boards or hitting our box outs.”

One of Plum’s two forwards, Dannika Susko, picked up three fouls in the first quarter and spent long periods of time on the bench. Susko ended up fouling out in the fourth quarter.

“I think that hurt a little bit,” Mull said. “She was in and out throughout the game. That was probably part of it, but it’s basketball. You got to play through it. It is what it is.”

Hannah Pugliese led the Indians with 15 points, and Egypt Coleman scored 13. Coleman also had several key offensive rebounds that led to points.

Riley Stephens came off the bench to score nine for Plum, and Pascale Olczak had eight, all in the second half.

Penn Hills’ final section game is against Kiski Area on Feb. 10.

Plum travels to Kiski Area on Monday for a pivotal game and plays at section leader Indiana on Thursday.

Deciding who’s in and who’s out in Section 1-5A likely will come down to the final night of the regular season.

“We just have to be ready to play on Monday,” Mull said.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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