Penn Hills earns long-awaited trip to final four with win over Plum
Penn Hills and Plum were trying to end long WPIAL semifinal droughts when they met Saturday in a Class AAAA quarterfinal game at Norwin.
The Indians had not been to the WPIAL final four since 2003, the last time they won the district championship. The Mustangs were seeking a trip to the semis for the first time since 2000, the freshman season for current Plum assistant Bobby Franklin Jr.
When the dust settled on the latest matchup of the top two teams from Section 2, No. 3 Penn Hills outlasted No. 6 Plum, 73-61.
“We were a little more nervous the first game against Butler (in the WPIAL first round) because they had never been in the playoffs, and we didn't know how they were going to react,” Penn Hills coach Dan DeRose said. “Getting that first win, they were a little more relaxed (Saturday against Plum). It was just about making sure we got the job done.”
Penn Hills (19-5), which also clinched a spot in the PIAA tournament, will meet North Hills on Wednesday for a spot in the WPIAL championship game at Petersen Events Center. The Indians are 17-1 in their past 18 games.
Plum (17-6) is still alive for a state tournament berth and will face Chartiers Valley on Monday in the PIAA fifth-place play-in bracket semifinals.
“We can continue to play or fold the tent,” Plum coach Ron Richards said. “I know the character of our guys. We will show up and play our best Monday night.”
The Indians and Mustangs met for the third time after splitting their season series. Penn Hills rallied in the fourth quarter for a win in the first meeting, and Plum snapped the Indians' 13-game winning streak with a last-second victory a couple weeks later.
Penn Hills jumped to an 11-4 lead in the first quarter, but Plum responded with an 11-2 spurt to move ahead early in the second quarter.
Neither team built more than a three-point lead until Penn Hills went ahead 57-53 on two free throws from junior Sherron Schifino with 3:19 left.
The Indians built a 63-53 advantage with 1:47 on the clock, but a bucket from James Edwards and a steal and layup from Taylor Vivino brought Plum back to within 64-61 with 42 seconds to play.
That was as close as the Mustangs would get as they committed four turnovers in the final 35 seconds. Penn Hills closed the game from the line.
Plum's depth was challenged in the fourth when starting junior guard Kevin Brown fouled out with 4:45 to play and the score tied 53-53.
The Mustangs were whistled for several fouls in the fourth quarter, and the Indians attempted 22 foul shots. They made 16 of the 22 shots.
“We've really harped on shooting free throws before practice, during practice and after practice, because that's what it usually comes down to in these close playoff games,” DeRose said. “We have the guards to protect the ball and make the free throws.”
Schifino went 9 for 9 from the line in the game and finished with 11 points, and Jeremiah Ligon led the Indians with 15 points.
“We played as a team and fought hard to the end,” Schifino said. “We made some big stops at the end, and the offense did what it needed to do. We're moving on, and that's the biggest thing.”
Edwards led all scorers with 21 points, and junior Jack Marold added 14 for Plum.
Mustangs senior Robby Deemer tallied 10 points and added nine rebounds. Brown also had nine rebounds and seven points.