In order to remain competitive -- especially in Section 2-AAAA this season -- Ron Richards knows his Plum boys basketball team can't afford to give away games.
"We have to stay focused," the Mustangs coach said. "We have to make sure we take advantage of every game and every practice.
"I believe this team will get better, but we can't waste any days."
Plum (5-0, 2-0) got off to an excellent start by winning both of its tipoff tournament games against Highlands and Deer Lakes. The Mustangs went on to beat Kiski Area before earning their first section win last week against Woodland Hills, then defeated McKeesport Area, 59-53, Tuesday.
"We've played well, but it's still early in the year," Richards said. "With the teams we've played being kind of young and inexperienced, I really don't know how good we are yet. We've done what we needed to do to win those games.
"Still, I know it's better to be 5-0 than 0-5 at this point."
Senior Austin Dedert, a 6-foot-6 forward, and 6-2 senior guard/forward Nick Stotler are Richards' lone returning starters. Those two veterans as well as sophomore guards Taylor Vivino, Ethan Winesburg and James Edwards make up Plum's starting five this season.
Dedert and Stotler led Plum to a 68-37 win last Friday against Woodland Hills. Dedert scored a game-high 18 points, while Stotler chipped in with 14. Against Kiski Area on Dec. 10, Dedert scored 17 points and added seven blocked shots. He had 22 against McKeesport.
"Austin is a kid who continues to get better every year," Richards said. "He's a 6-6 kid who has a reach of 6-10, so he's a true post player. He continues to get better and stronger, and as a senior this is his time to be our guy.
"He's been averaging close to a double-double every night, and if we want to be good, we're going to need that from him."
Richards also expects both Dedert and Stotler to continue to display veteran leadership.
"They have to lead by example," Richards said. "They are head and shoulders above the rest with experience, so they're going to carry the load of leadership for us. So far, they have embraced that role."
Mike McGuire, a 5-10 junior guard, 6-2 junior forward William Fuhrer, 6-0 junior guard/forward Austen Carney and 6-3 sophomore forward Robert Deemer are expected to contribute off the Mustangs' bench.
"We're young, but we're going to get better as a team," Richards said. "Once we get more experience and comfortable in game situations, we're going to improve."
With a young, inexperienced group last season, Plum missed out on qualifying for the WPIAL playoffs with a 6-8 record in Section 2-AAAA and 11-11 overall record.
"We lost some tough, close games last year," Richards said. "One bad week in this section can keep you on the outside looking in, and the same goes for this year.
"We have to stay extremely competitive every night. I hope we learned from last year and come prepared for every game. If not, it's going to be playoff time and we won't be in it."
Plum continues section play Friday night when it plays host to Gateway. After competing in Moon Area's holiday tournament next week, the Mustangs dive into a three-week stretch against Section 2-AAAA opponents.
"We have to remain focused when it comes to our section games," Richards said. "I don't care if you're home or away, you will get beat if you don't show up. Sometimes you're going to flat out get beat and you have to live with that, but you can't live with it when you're not mentally ready for those games.
"If we focus on getting better, we're going to be good. We have to stay injury free, be ready to play and stay away from those bad stretches of basketball. Teams who are able to do that are the ones ready to move into the playoffs."