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Plum's Stotler eyes big team goals in final season

| Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | The Daily News
Plum's Nick Stotler tries to work around McKeesport Area's William Gadson on Tuesday, December 17, 2013 at McKeesport. Ronald Vezzani Jr. | Dialy News

As a sophomore two years ago, Nick Stotler contributed to the Plum varsity boys basketball team's 16-8 overall record and trip to the WPIAL Quad-A playoffs out of a tough Section 2.

The Mustangs finished tied with Gateway for second in the section and beat Kiski Area in the playoffs' first round before falling to Shaler in the quarterfinals.

Last year, the Mustangs fell short of their playoff goals.

Stotler, a 6-foot-2 guard/forward, entered his senior season with a renewed plan to help Plum return to the WPIAL postseason. And as the Mustangs near the midpoint of the 2013-14 campaign, he is a big part of a successful effort so far.

“We want to get to the playoffs and go from there,” Stotler said.

“The section is tough, but the team is set up to do well.”

Plum improved to 3-1 in section play and 9-1 overall with a 71-64 victory at Pittsburgh Central Catholic on Friday.

The Mustangs bounced back in section from a tough home loss to Gateway on Dec. 20, and they handed the Vikings their first section loss in four games.

In Friday's game, Stotler showed his skill with 16 points. Ten points came on five field goals, and he also was 6 of 8 from the free throw line.

He averaged 12.9 points through 10 games.

“The last couple games, Nick has probably rebounded as well for us as he has done throughout his whole high school career,” Plum head coach Ron Richards said.

“He's played physical around the basket. He's not settling for jump shots. He's going aggressively to the basket and getting to the free-throw line. When he plays physical, he's a tough match for anyone. He's playing the way we need him to play. He's one of the best athletes in our section.”

Plum is a young squad this season, and Stotler, along with 6-6 forward Austin Dedert, are the only two seniors on the team.

Richards said that veterans like Stotler benefitted from the experience of the older players when they were freshmen and sophomores, and now it is their turn to give back.

“I think that's the natural progression,” Richards said.

“Nick and Austin are two of our most experienced players. They've played in so many big games and are a calming influence on the younger players. The team hasn't been flustered in any situations.”

Stotler said he simply wants to stay within his ability and try not to do too much.

“That's the goal of everyone on this team. I just want to play my role and help the team,” he said.

Teamwork through creating shots for each other, Stotler said, has been one of the keys as to why they have had scoring success so far this year.

Plum averaged 60.6 points on offense through 10 games and gave up a section-best 42.4. That total also ranks as the best in WPIAL Quad-A.

Stotler admits that while he has enjoyed success on the court so far this season, he said there are things in his game such as on-ball defense, dribbling, ball-handling and other small things that can be improved.

Plum placed four players in double figures Friday against Central Catholic.

Dedert and sophomore James Edwards each had 17 points to lead the Mustangs, while junior Mike McGuire canned a trio of 3-pointers and ended with 11 points.

“It was a good win for us,” Richards said.

“We hadn't had a home game in a few weeks, and we had been playing pretty well away from home. For about 29 minutes, we were doing some really good things. In the last three minutes we did some things to let them back in the game, but the kids played solid basketball, and it was nice to see.”

Richards hoped the good play continued Wednesday evening at Penn Hills.

The section contest was to be played past the deadline for this week's edition.

Plum and Fox Chapel meet Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Plum High School, and Fox Chapel also entered the week 3-1 in section and 10-1 overall.

The Foxes' only loss over their first 11 games came at the hands of Franklin Regional, 66-63, on Dec. 17.

Fox Chapel was slated to take on Gateway on Wednesday.

“I knew we had a team that would get better as the season wore on,” Richards said.

“We've had good practices, and that has translated into more consistent efforts. We knew we had more depth this year than we've had in recent years. But we still have a ways to go before we get to where we want to be.”

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

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