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Franklin Regional girls settling into underdog role

| Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Michael Love | Plum Advance Leader
Franklin Regional guard Natalie Tedesco sets up on defense during a game against Mt. Pleasant during the Franklin Regional Tip-Off Tournament on Dec. 7, 2013, at Franklin Regional High School.

Baylee Buleca expected the Franklin Regional girls basketball team to be underdogs when the Panthers opened section play this week against Fox Chapel and Penn Hills.

It's a role the Panthers are getting used to.

After the graduation of four seniors from last season, including three who signed to play basketball in college, Franklin Regional is skewing younger in 2013-14. But Buleca believes the Panthers have a chance to repeat their WPIAL playoff berth this season.

“Other teams aren't expecting us to be like we were last year,” said Buleca, a senior forward. “They're really not considering us as competition. It's just motivation for us to go out there and show them that we're not a team you can roll over and give them a fair fight.”

Through four games, Franklin Regional (2-2) is showing somewhat mixed results. The Panthers won the season-opening Franklin Regional Tournament, beating Jeannette and Mt. Pleasant, but they followed that with road losses to nonsection opponents Upper St. Clair and Mars.

In the loss to Mars on Monday, the Panthers struggled to make shots from the field and the free-throw line. They made just four of their 17 free-throw attempts.

“We've got to get a little more consistent (and) eliminate some turnovers and mistakes,” coach Rick Klimchock said. “We're turning the ball over a little too much. That concerns me some. And we have to improve at the foul line. We've always been a pretty good foul-shooting team, especially the last couple years, but ... I think foul shooting, executing better offensively and not turning the ball over would be big.”

Without the services of some of their experienced players from last season, the Panthers are leaning on Buleca and fellow seniors Mary Komandt and Natalie Tedesco. Juniors Hannah Bursic and Maddie Pulaski are playing big roles on the perimeter. Freshmen Paige Verona and Kassidy Hubert are also contributing.

“We have more height (and) more depth than we had last year,” Buleca said. “Last year, we really focused and mainly counted on the 3-pointers. We don't really have that this year. We have a few girls that can hit them, but we mainly look for our inside shots. We've been doing pretty well passing the ball better than last year. Leadership has been great.”

In the matchups against Fox Chapel and Penn Hills, Franklin Regional expected to face tough competition. Fox Chapel's Erin Mathias committed to play basketball at Duke, while Penn Hills freshman point guard Desiree Oliver is already attracting Division I interest.

The game against Fox Chapel ended past the deadline for this week's edition, but the Panthers will host Penn Hills at 6 p.m. Friday.

Klimchock thought having both games at home could turn into an advantage for his squad.

“We need to get some juice going at home,” he said. “We've got to get fired up a little bit here, and being at home will help us a lot.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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