East Xtra: For fourth year in a row, Plum makes its way into WPIAL playoffs
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The Plum girls basketball team has been involved in so many close games, Mustangs coach Bernie Pucka jokes that if he would have a dollar for every lead change his team has experienced this season, he would be a millionaire.
While that may be an exaggeration, there is no exaggerating that Pucka is rich with talent this season.
The Mustangs returned five starters from last season, including junior guard Krista Pietropola, one of the top scorers in Class AAAA. So far this year Plum is 15-5 overall and 8-3 in Section 2 and playing some of its best basketball down the stretch.
The Mustangs had a six-game winning streak before losing to Fox Chapel, 58-49, Tuesday night. The winning streak included key section wins against Franklin Regional, Woodland Hills, McKeesport, Penn Hills and Gateway and an impressive non-section win at Shaler Area.
Plum has clinched a WPIAL playoff spot and is in the running for any of the top three places in Section 2 along with Gateway (16-4, 9-2) and Fox Chapel (15-5, 10-2).
Getting to the playoffs is nothing new for Plum. It has reached the WPIAL playoffs the past three seasons. Getting to the second round, however, would be new for this group. Plum has been eliminated in the first round the past three seasons.
"Winning a playoff game is certainly a goal," Pucka said. "We don't want to be one and done this year. The first job is taking it one game at a time here in the regular season. If we do that, hopefully we get a better seed. Anybody can beat anybody once you get there."
Pietropola is leading the team averaging more than 16 points per game. She scored a game-high 16 in a 39-37 overtime win against Gateway on Saturday. The night before that she scored a game-high 20 in a 44-37 win at Penn Hills.
"She does a nice job of creating for herself," Pucka said. "She is a scorer, she is very skilled offensively."
Playing as a three-guard and standing 5 feet 11, Pietropola is a mismatch for most teams.
"She is a taller guard, we can put her down on the block or try to get her out on the break," Pucka said. "She is a tough matchup for teams who are going to go man-to-man."
The rest of the experienced starting lineup consists of junior point guard Jordan Seneca, senior shooting guard Angelena Borriello and forwards, sophomore Courtney Zezza and junior Alyson Weifenbaugh.
"I am proud of the way our girls are playing right now," Pucka said. "We are going to try to keep it rolling."
Borriello, Pietropola and junior Justine Cipa are team captains. Cipa, who comes off the bench as a guard, is currently battling an ankle injury.
The Amato sisters, Alexis, a junior, and Ashley, a freshman, come off the bench as guards and junior Lindsey Herd is the first forward off the bench.
Pucka has multiple scoring options aside from Pietropola. Weifenbaugh led all scorers with 18 in a 59-32 victory against McKeesport. In that same game Seneca added 13. Against Woodland Hills, a 51-38 Plum win, Weifenbaugh and Zezza both scored 11. In the win against Gateway on Saturday, trailing by one, Seneca hit the game-winner, a 3-pointer with 3.4 seconds left.
One can hardly tell now but the season got off to an ominous start. Plum dropped its first game, 74-37, to Penn-Trafford. The experienced Mustangs were hardly rattled by that, instead they rattled off five consecutive wins.
"The girls took it to heart," Pucka said. "We realized [Penn-Trafford] is not 37 points better than us. We just started to focus on the little things that we can do better and it is showing on the court. They are bringing a lot of energy, I'm really proud of the way they are playing."
First Published February 7, 2013 12:00 am