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Gateway holds off Plum in matchup of Section 2 rivals

| Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
(c) 2012 Lillian DeDomenic
Plum junior Krista Pietropola drives to the basket during a Section 2-AAAA girls basketball game against Gateway on Dec. 21, 2012. Aaron Loughner | For The Plum Advance Leader

Gateway raced out to a big halftime lead against rival Plum in a Section 2-AAAA varsity girls basketball game Friday at Gateway's Furrie Sports Complex.

The Gators led the key early-season matchup of teams both 2-0 in section play by 19 at the break and seemed have the game in control.

But both Gateway head coach Cornelius Nesbit and Plum head coach Bernie Pucka said that with 16 minutes left to play, anything still could happen.

The Mustangs came out in the second half and made a furious comeback attempt, but the Gators' largest point advantage was just too much to overcome, and they were able to hold on for a 56-49 victory.

“We can't give anything away at home,” Nesbit said.

“It was a big win for us.”

Gateway won its third in a row — all in section play — since a season-opening loss to Penn-Trafford on Dec. 11.

Plum had won its previous five games — including section matchups against Woodland Hills and Mc- Keesport — since also opening its season with a loss to Penn-Trafford.

“I couldn't ask any more from my girls in the second half against a very good Gateway team,” Pucka said. “I was really proud of their fight.”

Plum chipped away at the Gateway lead in the third quarter, as the Mustangs held a 14-8 advantage in the frame.

The Gators still held a 13-point lead at 45-32 heading into the fourth quarter.

Plum whittled the deficit down to as little as five — 54-49 — on a jumper from junior Aly Weifenbaugh with 1:30 left to play.

Gateway missed several from the foul line in the final minutes of the game, and the Mustangs were unsuccessful on a couple of field-goal attempts — including a few from beyond the 3-point line.

Gators senior Chelsea Richardson sealed the win with a free-throw with 35 seconds left that made it a three-possession game.

“I wish we wouldn't have settled for so many threes down the stretch,” Pucka said. “If we would've kept pushing to the rim, getting to the foul line and making some when the clock wasn't ticking, it might have been a different story.”

Richardson scored five points in the fourth quarter and had a team-best 20 for the game.

“Basketball is a game of runs, and we talked at halftime about how excited we started the game and were clicking on all cylinders,” Nesbit said.

“We also reminded the girls that if we don't come out and continue to execute and play our game, it could flip and they could make a run. We knew Plum was a very good team and was capable of making that run.”

Gateway came out and grabbed a 6-0 lead, and Plum didn't get on the board until junior Krista Pietropola nailed a 3-pointer at the 4:26 mark of the first quarter to cut the deficit in half.

Pietropola led all scorers with 24 points. She scored 17 of the 24 after halftime, and she added 10 rebounds and six steals.

The Gators then went on a 7-0 run to close out the first quarter.

Plum used an 8-2 run to close within 17-13 at the 6:22 mark.

Gateway called a timeout, and the Mustangs had the momentum on their side.

But the Gators responded with another 7-0 run to take a 24-13 advantage with 5:16 to play until halftime and then closed out the half with a 13-3 spurt.

“I was having flashbacks to the first half against Penn-Trafford to where we were outhustled, outrebounded and were not physical enough,” Pucka said. “After a pretty good halftime talking-to, they responded.”

Gateway senior forward Maria Taylor had a big first half, both in points scored and in rebounding.

She scored 14 of her 16 points in the first half.

“Maria Taylor is a special player, and she set the tone for us,” Nesbit said.

Junior Jada Epps added seven points for Gateway, while seniors Katey Wilson and Roni Kuster contributed six and five points, respectively.

Sophomore 6-foot-3 forward Courtney Zezza also reached double figures for Plum with 10. She and Richardson received double technicals for some after-the-whistle physicality in the third quarter.

Plum was 0-for-5 from the foul line in the fourth quarter, and Gateway missed 10 free throws in the final frame.

For the game, the Gators were 10 of 26 from the line.

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at

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