Plum girls value experience in WPIAL basketball playoffs
Sunday, March 5, 2023 | 11:01 AM
Plum girls basketball coach Rich Mull said he knew his team had its work cut out for it when it took on No. 1 South Fayette in a WPIAL Class 5A first-round matchup Feb. 21.
“South Fayette had a great reputation that precedes them, obviously, and it was a challenge to prepare for them,” Mull said.
“We knew what we were up against, but we were excited for the opportunity to play such a strong team. The kids were disappointed they didn’t get off to a better start.”
The Mustangs fell behind the Lions 26-5 after the first quarter and were unable to recover as South Fayette scored a 72-29 victory.
The Lions advanced to the WPIAL championship game against No. 2 Oakland Catholic on Saturday at the Petersen Events Center.
Junior Megan Marston led Plum with 15 points in the loss. She finished her junior season as the Mustangs’ leading scorer at 18 points a game.
“I think the speed of the game and their experience kind of overwhelmed us, especially at the beginning of the game until we settled in a little bit,” Mull said.
“Looking back, and I think the kids would agree, that it was a good learning experience. We had some juniors who played, we had a freshman and a sophomore who played a lot. I think they were able to take things to build on out of what was a pretty difficult game.”
Plum capped its season at 13-11 overall.
It wasn’t all gloomy for the Mustangs in the playoffs. Returning to the postseason after missing out last year, Plum, the 16th seed, captured its third playoff victory in program history Feb. 16 with a 46-38 home win over No. 17 Montour in a preliminary round contest.
Marston led all scorers with 23 points, and junior forward Pascale Olczak finished with a double-double, scoring 11 points and recording 12 rebounds.
Plum held its largest lead of the game — 11 at 42-31 — with about six minutes left in the fourth quarter. The Mustangs’ offense then went cold for several minutes as Montour cut the deficit to four.
Free throws from sophomore Serena Carnahan and Marston with less than a minute to play sealed the win.
It was a close call for Plum down the stretch in Section 1 as it battled to qualify for the playoffs.
The Mustangs were 5-3 in the section and were in a playoff spot after a close 38-35 win over Franklin Regional on Jan. 23.
Plum then suffered consecutive losses to Woodland Hills, Penn Hills and Kiski Area that put it on the brink of elimination.
But a win over section champion Indiana to close out section play tied the Mustangs with Penn Hills and Kiski Area. Through a tiebreaker, Plum qualified.
The Mustangs also enjoyed nonsection wins over Class 6A playoff qualifier Peters Township and Class 4A semifinalist Highlands.
“Our biggest thing, and a number of the kids said this, was consistency, with both with individuals and with the team overall, from practice to practice and game to game with what contributions they can make,” Mull said.
“Sometimes we were playing to our capabilities and were executing, and others times, we were a little off and it hurt us in games we felt we let slip away.”
Plum will say goodbye to a pair of seniors in guard Cam Rogers and forward Dannika Susko.
Susko was not able to play in the Mustangs’ two playoff games because of injury. She battled through injury throughout the season, and Mull said she didn’t have the final season she hoped for after having a strong junior campaign and a productive overall high school career since her freshman year in 2019-20.
Rogers’ high school career has one more game as she will take part in the 26th Cager Classic all-star game March 25 at Highlands High School.
She will play on the East team with senior Lexiann Colaianni from rival Kiski Area as well as seniors from Apollo-Ridge, Burrell, Butler, Fox Chapel, Franklin Regional, Mars, Cheswick Christian and Riverview.
Mull said Plum will work in the offseason and return to build around a core group which includes Marston, Olczak, Carnahan, as well as junior guard Rayla Smith and freshman guard/forward Riley Stephans.
Stephans started her varsity career with a bang as she sank a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to beat Freeport in the season-opening Freeport Tip-Off Tournament.
“We told the kids after the game and when we met with them individually that their improvement is not going to just happen,” Mull said.
“It is about repetition and doing the little things to get better and make the bigger things possible. It will happen with what they do in the spring and what we do as a team in the summer and fall with workouts and games. A lot of the kids understand that and are willing to put in the work. Getting that message and having it trickle down to some of the younger kids coming up will do a lot of good for the program.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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