Plum girls learn from playoff loss to Penn Hills

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Friday, February 21, 2020 | 6:02 PM


With 2 minutes, 4 seconds left in the third quarter of its WPIAL Class 5A first-round game against Penn Hills at Fox Chapel, the Plum girls basketball team held a four-point lead and hoped to expand it toward the program’s first playoff victory since 2002.

However, the Indians went on an 18-4 run over the next eight minutes to build a 10-point advantage in what would become a 43-35 victory. The Mustangs were denied the opportunity to snap a nine-game postseason losing streak.

“I asked the girls in the locker room what they learned from (the loss), wanting them to reflect on the game for a little bit,” coach Steve Elsier said.

“I think they understood why I asked that question. Now, they know what it takes to win these games. It comes down to execution. We made some mistakes throughout the game, and had to do some things better to finish that game off. I think that is something they can take with them when they have this opportunity in the playoffs again.”

Despite the sudden end to the season at 14-7 overall, Elsier pointed to the resilience of his team to be able to quickly look over the entirety of the season and be proud of the 14 victories and the Section 2-5A runner-up finish that gave them the playoff opportunity as the No. 9 seed.

“One of the girls commented that they were handling the loss a little bit better than they did last year,” said Elsier, referring to Plum’s 79-36 first-round defeat at the hands of Thomas Jefferson in 2019.

“This year, they knew they were in the realm of competitiveness and easily could’ve won that game. We’re not here to just be decent but have set the bar higher as a program.”

Elsier said the he was proud of the focus, determination and expectations of the team in the offseason and throughout preseason practices.

Plum opened the season with a 66-48 loss to Class 3A power Mohawk at the Moon tournament and stood at 3-4 overall and 1-1 in the section heading into January.

But a 10-point section victory over Armstrong on Jan. 2 ignited an eight-game winning streak that included a 41-27 win at eventual section champion Gateway.

The streak was snapped at Armstrong on Jan. 28, and a heartbreaking last-second home loss to the Gators on senior night dashed the Mustangs’ title hopes.

“They put a lot of work in to be ready for any of the challenges they faced,” Elsier said. “They are right at the cusp of being a great program consistently, not just winning some games some years and not being as good in others. They know they can’t be satisfied with just being at the level they’re at right now.”

Elsier said that the four-member senior class — Mackenzie Lake, Gianna Trombetta, Chloe Fabio and Sierra Belgrave — were instrumental over the past several years, through their various roles, in helping develop the program into a section-title contender with the ability to make things happen in the playoffs.

“I felt really bad for them that they were not able to experience a section title or a playoff win,” said Elsier, who took over as head coach in 2017 before the quartet’s sophomore year.

“At the same time, I think they felt fortunate to be in the position to win a section title or win in the playoffs. A lot of teams in the WPIAL wish they had those chances. ”

Fabio was able to conclude her varsity career on the court after she missed her junior season because of injury.

“Even though they graduate, they will always be a big part of our program,” Elsier said.

Elsier expects a lot of positives to come out of work this offseason, including workouts in the gym, in the weight room and in summer-league games.

Juniors Kennedie Montue and Jamie Seneca, sophomore Kai Johnson and freshman Dannika Susko will return to form the core of the Plum team in 2020-21. Montue led the team with 18 points against Penn Hills, averaged 22 points a game for the season and scored her 1,000th career point in a game at Franklin Regional on Jan. 20.

“We’ll be running a summer-league program for the third year,” Elsier said. “We had 12 great teams in it last year including teams like Mars, Woodland Hills, Allderdice, Knoch and Deer Lakes, and we’re looking to expand it with teams like Fox Chapel looking to get in.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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