Mt. Pleasant holds off upset-minded Derry
A look at the WPIAL Section 3-AAA standings would suggest that Thursday's girls basketball tilt between Derry and host Mt. Pleasant would not be a competitive game.
The Vikings are fighting for a section championship while the Trojans have fallen out of the playoff race altogether.
But sometimes the standings don't always tell the whole story, as the Vikings quickly realized that the Trojans would not be an easy win on their record.
In a back-and-forth game that could have gone either way, Mt. Pleasant did just enough in the closing minutes to pull out a hard-fought 55-46 victory.
With the win, Mt. Pleasant (10-7, 7-1) pulls into a first-place tie with Indiana in the section standings. However, after the game, much of the focus was on the visitors.
“I give Derry a lot of credit,” Mt. Pleasant coach Scott Giacobbi said. “They made us work for every single thing and they were well-prepared.”
What made the Trojans' effort even more impressive was the fact that several starters (Katerina Hamerski and Kiersten Horrell) were out of the lineup while freshmen Morgan Kelly and Lauren Felix played big minutes.
“A lot of our games have been really close and I'm proud of what the girls are doing,” Derry coach Rich Zemba said. “We had two freshmen in our lineup and I commend them.”
Felix led Derry (3-11, 1-8) with 14 points and Morgan Roble was next in line with 12 points.
Despite Derry's strong effort, it still wasn't enough to overtake the Vikings, who were coming off back-to-back losses earlier this week to Indiana and Belle Vernon.
“We're coming off a tough stretch,” Giacobbi said, noting that his team has played four games in the past six days and has had little time to practice. “We have to get some work in.”
The Vikings definitely had a workout against the Trojans. Mt. Pleasant built an early 15-8 lead as Morgan Barlock buried a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the first quarter. Then in the second quarter, Alexa Szelong hit a trey and sliced to the hoop for a lay-up that helped Mt. Pleasant take a 28-19 lead into the half.
Szelong finished with a game-high 17 points. Kadey Donitzen, who hit baskets in every quarter, finished with 14 points and Barlock scored 12 points.
Derry pulled to within six points in the third when Roble canned a 3-pointer just before the buzzer, sending the game to the fourth quarter with Mt. Pleasant leading 38-32.
“We fought back in the third period and I can't say enough about their effort,” Zemba said.
Derry fought all the way back early in the fourth as Rachel Garris stole a pass and scored to give the Trojans a 39-38 lead with just over six minutes remaining.
But down the stretch, the Vikings regained their composure and got some clutch shots from Szelong, Donitzen, Jordan Toohey and Brooke Kalp to regain the lead.
Then in the final minutes, Szelong and Barlock each hit game-sealing free-throws.
“We needed to settle down and take a breath and execute our scheme, and it came together in the end,” Giacobbi said.
Jason Black is the Local Sports Editor of the Daily Courier. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.