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Franklin Regional guards learning on the job

| Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Michael Love | For the Murrysville Star
Maddie Pulaski dribbles the ball down court during a game against Mt. Pleasant on Dec. 7, 2013, at Franklin Regional High School.

The early portion of the 2013-14 season is turning into a learning experience for the Franklin Regional girls basketball team — a fact most evident on the perimeter.

Franklin Regional lost the bulk of its outside scoring from last season because of the graduation of Erin Difalco, Dana Eastman, Maggie Kimmich and Hanna Wagner. In the absence of those players, seniors Mary Komandt and Natalie Tedesco, juniors Hannah Bursic and Maddie Pulaski and freshman Kassidy Hubert are playing bigger roles.

“I think the biggest thing for us is the (development of the) perimeter play,” Franklin Regional coach Rick Klimchock said.

So far this season, Klimchock said he is seeing steady development from his guards. Pulaski is developing into an outside shooting threat, averaging 8.8 points per game. Bursic and Tedesco are Franklin Regional's top two defenders on the perimeter. Starting point guard Komandt is a steadying influence, while freshmen Hubert and Verona are averaging 5.3 and 3.9 ppg, respectively, off the bench.

Still, the Panthers (3-5, 0-2 Section 2-AAA) could stand to see more development — mainly to take some of the pressure off senior center Baylee Buleca. Buleca, a four-year-starter, is averaging 13 points and 10 rebounds per game despite facing double and triple teams from opposing teams.

“She's drawing a lot of attention,” Klimchock said. “We lost to Penn Hills, and they completely sold out (to stop Buleca). We had a one-point lead with about a minute to go and couldn't hold on. That was a game we were really looking to get and we were disappointed we didn't find a way to win it. In that game, they held (Buleca) to 11 points and we were really trying to get her the ball more.”

Some of the inconsistent guard play can be seen in the team's shooting numbers, as the Panthers — an effective 3-point shooting team a season ago — were making just 20 percent of their outside attempts entering this week.

“The biggest thing in that Penn Hills game is that we had a lot of clean looks in that game from the perimeter, especially in the first half, and we really didn't knock enough of them down,” Klimchock said. “I think that was the thing that we need to just develop that consistency. It isn't like kids can't shoot; it's getting the confidence and feeling like, ‘I want to take that shot (and) I can make it,' and don't rush it. ... I think if we (get more consistent shooting), in addition to Buleca and our other post players, I think we can have a successful second half.”

The play of younger forwards such as juniors Nicole Wesolowski (5 ppg) and Sarah Stephens (3.4 ppg) is also helping to take some of the pressure off Buleca, Klimchock said.

Klimchock said another reason for a bit of a slow start was finding a comfortable rotation of players.

“You're trying to find out what each girl's strengths are, and that's what I'm trying to do,” Klimchock said. “I kind of know it in my mind, but I want to see it again live against competition what players' strengths are and how to use it properly.”

Despite some of the early offensive problems, Klimchock said he was happy with the team's defensive effort throughout the season.

“We're giving 100 percent,” he said.

Klimchock said he was encouraged by the team's performance in a 58-19 win over Kiski on Saturday. The Panthers snapped a five-game losing streak, racing out to a 39-11 halftime lead in the victory.

“We felt like our energy's been good, but we just haven't been finding ways to win,” he said. “It was just good (Saturday) to get a turnaround.”

Franklin Regional will now look for a similar bounce-back in section play, which resumes Friday at Gateway. With 10 section games remaining, the Panthers have enough time to bounce back from an 0-2 start and make the playoffs, Klimchock said.

“I think we can compete with anybody in the section,” Klimchock said. “It's just a matter of us just getting over that hump offensively. We're 0-2, and you have to finish the first half (of section play) with a couple wins.”

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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