Gateway Gators hope to remain undefeated in section against Franklin Regional on Friday
Gateway varsity girls basketball head coach Cornelius Nesbit knows that Franklin Regional has a lot riding on Friday's Section 2-AAAA battle at Franklin Regional High School.
The Gators and Panthers meet at 6 p.m., and Gateway hopes to put two games between it and Franklin Regional in the standings while maintaining its spot at the top with Fox Chapel.
Gateway is undefeated in section play (3-0), while Franklin Regional is 1-1.
The Panthers loss in section came at the hands of Fox Chapel, 60-43.
The Foxes visit Penn Hills tomorrow, and they also hope to improve to 4-0.
Fox Chapel and Gateway meet for the first time this season on Tuesday at Gateway High School.
Franklin Regional went 7-5 last year and grabbed the fourth playoff spot from Section 2. But the Panthers found it tough sledding against the Gators.
Gateway beat Franklin Regional by 17 and 29 points en route to a 12-0 section mark and its second straight section title.
Nesbit said that Franklin Regional has a lot of talent back from last year, including junior 6-foot forward Baylee Buleca and senior guards Maggie Kimmich and Dana Eastman.
“Franklin Regional always presents a unique challenge,” Nesbit said.
“They have four guards out there and will shoot a ton of threes. We have to be able to contest those and be able to rebound. Buleca is one of the best players in the WPIAL. She gets a lot of her points off of rebounds.”
Buleca averages 11.1 points and 10.3 rebounds per game.
Eastman and Kimmich were strong from outside in a 79-62 win over Laurel Highlands at the Laurel Highlands Tournament on Dec. 27.
Kimmich nailed five 3-pointers, while Eastman had four. The team finished the game with 13 threes.
Kimmich leads the team in scoring this season at about 16 points per game.
Before the Gators and Panthers mix it up in section play, Gateway pays a visit to Upper St. Clair on Thursday for a rematch of last year's WPIAL first-round playoff game.
The Panthers edged the Gators, 55-53, and suddenly ended their postseason run before it got going.
Upper St. Clair closed out December 6-2 overall and beat both Belle Vernon and Uniontown to claim the Laurel Highlands Tournament title.
Gateway turned up the defensive pressure and crashed the boards in a 40-31 win over Pine-Richland in the first round of the Altoona Tournament.
“The girls are talking and communicating more on defense and knowing what we're doing when we switch defenses from possession to possession,” Nesbit said.
The Gators pulled down 38 rebounds (26 defensive, 12 offensive) against the Rams. Sophomore Morgan Hainsey and junior Katey Wilson each had 10 rebounds, while seniors Maria Taylor and Chelsea Richardson had nine and seven rebounds, respectively.
“The important thing is taking good shots, whether we make them or miss them,” Nesbit said. “If we take good shots, we'll be in a good position to get the rebound. We also were able to limit Pine-Richland to one shot many times.”
Gateway spread the wealth in the scorebook, as Richardson led the way with 13 points, while Wilson had nine and Taylor and Hainsey had eight each.
For the second year in a row, Gateway and Altoona met in the finals of the Altoona Tournament, and like last year, the game came down to the wire before the Mountain Lions pulled out the victory.
Altoona topped Gateway, 50-48, on Friday, and Nesbit said foul shooting hurt the Gators.
Gateway went to the line only eight times, but they missed six.
“When we win games, we make free throws,” Nesbit said. “At the end of the day, it's a matter of being confident when heading to the line.”
Junior Jada Epps missed the game against Pine-Richland, but she returned against Altoona the next day and scored 20 points.
She connected on 10 of 14 field goal attempts.
“We held Jada out as a precaution because of an injury,” Nesbit said.
“I think there really was some motivation to help the team (against Altoona). She said she was ready to go during the walk through before Altoona. We really saw what she brings to the table. She's a point guard who can score the basketball. She was in a groove.”
Hainsey also reached double figures, as she scored 10, while Wilson had eight and Taylor contributed seven points.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.