Plum girls improving in quest for Section 2 championship

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Saturday, January 4, 2020 | 9:13 AM


About an hour removed from a 41-31 victory over Armstrong on Thursday, Plum girls basketball coach Steve Elsier provided a list of reasons it was their best performance to date.

“We had better possessions in the half court,” he said. “We communicated well in the half court. We pushed the ball, attacked and finished when it was there and didn’t force it when it wasn’t. We communicated defensively and were in better help defense for the most part. Our closeouts were better, and we got our hands higher. Those are the things we work on in practice over and over.”

In each part of the list there are small details that provide a blueprint for being a winning team.

The aim for the Mustangs is to continue an upward trend as they try to carry out their preseason goal of winning the program’s first section title.

Plum (4-4, 2-1) is right in the mix of a fluid Section 2-5A race that features five teams within two games of the top of the standings. Hampton (2-0), Mars (3-1), Gateway (2-1) and Armstrong (2-2) join the Mustangs in what is shaping up to be a good battle all season.

Another positive sign in the Armstrong win was the Mustangs were able to grind through a first half in which standout junior Kennedie Montue was relegated to the bench with foul trouble.

Montue sat out half the first quarter and the entire second quarter but returned to score a game-high 28 points.

Montue has been one of the most prolific scorers in Class 5A all season. She had back-to-back nights where she dropped 29 points in a 60-40 nonsection win over Steel Valley and 34 in a 78-50 loss to Allderdice.

While the offense runs through Montue, the Mustangs have had contributions from others at big moments.

Gianna Trombetta hit a shot with 35 seconds remaining to put Plum ahead in a hard-fought 47-43 win over Franklin Regional in the section opener Dec. 17. Mackenzie Lake, a Towson softball recruit, is another scoring threat.

“I think there’s other girls that can step up at times,” Elsier said. “We’re really big on playing team ball, and we do the best we can to get Kennedie the ball because she’s our best scorer.”

Playing team ball also means playing good team defense.

Elsier said sophomore Kai Johnson, junior Jamie Seneca and senior Chloe Fabio provide good man-to-man defense. There’s also been the emergence of freshman Camryn Rodgers, giving Plum a rotation of eight. Elsier likes the athleticism and tenacity Rogers brings.

Plum’s lone loss in section play was a 69-47 setback at Mars on Dec. 19. Elsier wasn’t displeased with how his team played but said Mars had a really good shooting night, which was too much to overcome.

Elsier scheduled aggressively in nonsection play with the likes of defending City League champ Allderdice, reigning District 6 4A champion and currently unbeaten Forest Hills and Mohawk, which has only one loss on the season.

Plum lost all three of those games, but the experience gained playing in challenging environments should help in tight section matches.

The Mustangs finish the first round of section play with games against Hampton, Kiski Area and Gateway the next two weeks.

Those matchups will set a good baseline for what can be expected going forward. If they can build off the Armstrong win and continue evolving, they expect to be battling for a section crown in February.

“My job is to get them better as the year goes on,” Elsier said. “You want a better product on the floor midway through the year and then at the end of the year than you had at the beginning. I think that’s what we showed (Thursday). It was the best defensive game we played all year. We had shown glimpses. Against Franklin Regional, we played very well the last four minutes, but other than that we didn’t defend very well in that game.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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