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Plum basketball teams split with section rival Gateway

| Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The Plum varsity girls basketball team will spend the next couple of days in Ohio, and it built up a lot of momentum heading into their holiday tournament with a five-game winning streak and a big 42-36 win Friday against rival Gateway at Plum High School.

Mustangs head coach Bernie Pucka knows that every game against the Gators is a battle.

Last year's game at Plum went to overtime before a Jordan Seneca 3-pointer won it for the Mustangs.

Friday's game was within three points several times in the fourth quarter.

“This is a relationship with Gateway where you have to earn every point,” Pucka said.

“It's a scrappy game, and you have to go out there and earn it. We've been up in the 50s as far as scoring, and we thought they were going to slow it down and be physical.”

Pucka was concerned with his team's free-throw shooting against Gateway, especially in the fourth quarter.

Plum was 4 of 14 from the line in the fourth and 15 of 31 for the game.

“That certainly is a coach's nightmare, and we will do what we can to correct that.”

Pucka said he was pleased with holding a potent Gateway offense to 36 points and only four points in the fourth quarter.

The Gators are without senior Katey Wilson, who will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.

“Jada Epps is a flat-out scorer, and then you throw Morgan Hainsey into the mix,” Pucka said.

“They are seasoned veterans, and to hold them to 36 points is great to see from our defense. Only scoring 42 for us is something we have to improve on.”

Junior forward Courtney Zezza again scored in double figures for Plum as she tallied a team-best 14.

Senior Krista Pietropola scored 12, and fellow senior Jordan Seneca had nine.

Plum now is 3-0 in section play with the Gateway win, as well as victories over Woodland Hills and McKeesport.

Plum resumes section play at Penn Hills on Jan. 7 and will play a nonsection game against Pine-Richland the next day.

The Mustangs welcome Fox Chapel to Plum High School on Jan. 10.

Fox Chapel and Plum both are 3-0 in section play, while Penn Hills is 2-0.

But before the Mustangs get involved with their January schedule, they have business to tend to Friday and Saturday at the Westland holiday tournament in suburban Columbus.

Plum will head west and play host Westland, which is 6-0 on the season, at 5 p.m. Friday. The Mustangs then will play another Ohio team, Delaware-Hayes, on Saturday at 3 p.m.

The Plum JV team will play at 1:30 p.m. Friday and at noon Saturday.

Pucka said this is a nice tournament for his players, because the teams they will face are similar in size in terms of school enrollment.

Boys basketball: Gateway 56, Plum 53 — The visiting Gators built several leads in the game, but the Mustangs stuck around and were within two points at 52-50 with 1:36 left after a 3-pointer from sophomore James Edwards.

Trailing by three with 15 seconds on the clock, a Gateway turnover gave Plum one last chance.

However, a medium-range jumper from sophomore Ethan Winesburgh was off the mark. Gateway's Tommy Kromka pulled down the rebound to seal the win.

“We had chances to do more and win the game, right down to the end,” Plum head coach Ron Richards said.

“That's usually how our games are with (Gateway). We talked to the kids about the importance of each possession. You might not think a certain possession is important in the first quarter, but when you look back at the end of the game, it is big. It could be a missed free throw, a missed rebound or a turnover, and they are gigantic in these types of games.”

Edwards canned a total of three 3-pointers and finished with a team-best 18 points. Senior Nick Stotler added 14 points, while fellow senior Austin Dedert scored eight and added 16 rebounds.

Plum now is 2-1 in Section 2-AAAA play, and the loss also was its first in six games overall.

Gateway upped its section record to 3-0, and Central Catholic also is 3-0 in section action.

Fox Chapel and Franklin Regional also are 2-1 in the section.

The Mustangs rebounded Saturday afternoon with a 45-23 win over Valley behind 13 points from Stotler and 11 more from Dedert.

Plum held the Vikings to just 10 points over the final three quarters.

The Mustangs now turn their attention to the Moon Holiday Tournament.

Plum will face Perry at 6 p.m. Friday, while Moon and North Hills square off in the second game.

The consolation and championship games will be Saturday evening.

Plum is 6-5 in 11 holiday-tournament games the past five years.

Last year, the Mustangs lost to Seneca Valley but edged Erie Strong Vincent, 48-47, in the consolation game of the Seneca Valley tournament.

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

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