No. 1 Mt. Lebo ends season for Franklin Regional girls hoops
Franklin Regional's girls basketball team has made continual progress over the last few seasons, but it still has farther to go before it's on the level of perennial power Mt. Lebanon.
The Panthers' season came to an end in the first round of the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs with a 50-30 loss to the top-seeded Blue Devils on Feb. 19 at North Hills High School.
Baylee Buleca had 10 points to lead the Panthers (11-13), who were coming off only their second playoff win since the 1990s in a preliminary-round game against Albert Gallatin.
Alex Ventrone led all scorers with 16 for Mt. Lebanon (22-2), which at this edition's deadline, was still alive in the playoffs and seeking a fourth WPIAL title in five years.
The Panthers played their second strong game in a row in the postseason, as they led the top seed, 12-9, after one quarter. Franklin Regional trailed by just three at halftime, but in the second half, the Blue Devils pulled away when the Panthers' shooting went cold.
“Our girls really regrouped and sold out for the playoffs,” Franklin Regional coach Rick Klimchock said. “We had probably our best game of the year against Albert Gallatin, and against Lebo, we played very well but just couldn't find the net.”
FR played a strong defensive game despite being at a significant size disadvantage. The Panthers had only one player over 5-foot-10 — Buleca at 6-feet — to match up with seven on the Mt. Lebanon roster over that height.
“It was an even game at the half. (Mt. Lebanon) hit a shot at the buzzer to get that three-point lead, but we had played really well defensively,” Klimchock said.
The Panthers continued with their game effort in the second half, but were unable to overcome an 11-for-41 night from the floor.
Even in defeat, the Panthers' coach was positive about his team's season, in large part because of the two playoff performances.
“Our year was like a roller coaster with all the ups and downs,” Klimchock said.
“We played good for a while, and then the bottom would fall out. I think we hit our low in the home loss to Plum (on Feb. 8), but we started to really push the girls after that, and they responded.”
The loss brings an end to the high school careers of four FR seniors, Maggie Kimmich, Hanna Wagner, Erin DiFalco and Dana Eastman. The four were freshmen for Klimchock's first season as the varsity coach at Franklin Regional, and in their time with the team, they helped make the transition from Triple-A to Quad-A basketball and secured two straight playoff appearances.
“We're really going to miss those four seniors. They've been really instrumental for us,” Klimchock said. “They were all good scorers, so we'll miss that, but we're also going to miss those kids because of the commitment, loyalty and passion they have for the game.
“We didn't win a section title or do unbelievably well, but the last three years since we moved to Quad-A, we won 35 games, made the playoffs twice and won a preliminary-round game. It takes some work to do all that.”
Going forward, the Panthers will return starters Buleca and Mary Komandt next year, along with key role players such as guards Natalie Tedesco and Gillian Kane. Both Buleca and Kane returned this season off of ACL injuries, and with a full offseason this year, Klimchock expects both to be much improved next year.
“Baylee's such a tough kid. She tore her ACL last spring after (Chicago Bulls guard) Derrick Rose did, and she was back on the court before he even started practicing,” Klimchock said. “I'm excited for her and Gillian to have a chance to come back full-strength from those injuries.”
Klimchock's 2013-14 squad returns more players that saw minutes this year, including Sarah Stephens, Nikki Wesolowski and Maddie Pulaski, which has the coach sad to say goodbye to his seniors, but excited for what the future might hold.
“We definitely have some holes to fill, especially in terms of scoring. We're losing more than 30 points per game from (the seniors),” he said. “But I think these younger girls are excited for the chance to take on a bigger role, and I'm excited to see what they're able to do.”
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.