Plum boys basketball turns attention to promising future

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Sunday, February 18, 2024 | 11:01 AM


At the start of the season, Plum boys basketball coach Justin Walther said he felt his team was a playoff contender in Class 5A out of Section 2.

While the Mustangs were competitive in a number of section games, a section win didn’t come until the section finale at Armstrong on Feb. 9.

The 63-46 victory, which saw junior Will Beckner pour in 23 points on the strength of five 3-point field goals; senior Brendan Getlack add 15 points; and junior Max Grice tally 13 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks, avenged a home senior-night overtime heartbreaker to the River Hawks two weeks prior.

“We felt we gave one away to them here in the first game,” Walther said. “We had some younger guys in (in the second meeting), and they responded. We gave Armstrong a different look defensively. They had a hard time cracking that.

“We were controlling the glass, and with Max and Will hitting their shots early, we broke out to a nice lead (19-10) at the end of the first quarter. They gave us a little bit of a pushback at the end, but we called a timeout, put in a couple press breaks, got some easy layups and that was the end of the game.”

The win over Armstrong was part of a finale to the season which Walther said created some positive vibes for the program and momentum heading into the offseason.

“We got so many young guys who are going to be the future for next season, and they responded very well,” he said.

“It was a good mix, and the veterans took a good approach to it with helping the younger ones and teaching them some things. Overall, we ended on a really high note.”

Plum finished 1-9 in the section and 8-14 overall. Walther said the second meeting with Fox Chapel, a 70-55 loss to the playoff-bound Foxes on Jan. 30, was “probably our best game of the year. We were right there.”

The next game, the Mustangs were down just two to Woodland Hills at halftime, 23-21, before the Wolverines pulled away for a 63-47 win.

The Mustangs scored nonsection wins against the likes of OLSH, Brentwood, Freeport, Eden Christian and Class 3A playoff qualifier Burrell in the season finale Feb. 12.

Sophomore Owen Proskin scored 15 points and recorded 11 rebounds. Grice and Beckner added 14 and 13 points, respectively, in a 55-44 win over the Bucs.

Macky Bennis, a 1,000-point scorer for Burrell, led his team with 24.

“When you’re a 5A team playing 3A teams, you are supposed to win those games, and this year, that is what we did,” Walther said.

“We won those games this year that we might not have won in the past. Burrell is a good team, and they’re going to be a tough out (in the playoffs). Bennis is a really good shooter. He got off early, and then we face-guarded him in the second half. (Junior) Darian (Nelson) locked him up, and we were able to create some separation and were able to pull away.

“We weren’t particularly sharp, but were able to make plays and get the job done.”

Walther said he was to meet with team members last Thursday to assess the past season and the immediate future of the program.

“When we were talking in the locker room after the Burrell game, the seniors didn’t want the season to end. They wanted to keep playing,” Walther said of the senior trio of Getlak, Sean Franzi and Jack Anderson.

“The juniors said they can’t wait for next year because that is going to be the next step in the building process and the growth of this team. To reassess, where I think we are now from where we were at the start of the season, we are quickly narrowing the gap to where I think we can be that playoff qualifier.

“The effort was an absolute constant. I know I don’t have to ask for that. They just brought it every practice and game. I know they will continuously play at a high level at all times.”

Grice led the team in scoring at 13.9 points per game and in rebounds with 7.3 per contest. Beckner contributed 12.2 points a game, and Proskin averaged 11.3 points and 5.1 rebounds.

“We have a pretty good sophomore class, with Owen, and two pretty good guards who I know will step up in Jesse Stead and Josh Kodman,” Walther said.

“Jesse and Josh led our JV this year, and it was a nice turnaround from the year before to where we won nine games this year. The improvement is showing throughout the program.”

Freshman guard/forward Trey McMurray, Walther said, gave the varsity strong minutes this year, and his role is expected to increase next year, while sophomore Mekhi Daniels, a JV starter, provides length and strong defense.

“We have a lot of pieces back who will help provide a strong core for next year’s team,” Walther said.

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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