Keystone Oaks girls hanging around

Nathan Smith
| Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, 5:18 p.m.

Things haven't gone according to plan for the Keystone Oaks girls basketball team.

The Golden Eagles returned four starters — plus several bench players — and looked to be a challenger in Section 5-AAA entering the season.

Instead the team started the season 1-6 and was left looking for answers.

“A combination of things led to it,” Keystone Oaks coach Nikki Presto said. “One day it was the lack of defense. One day was a lack of scoring production. Another day there was a lack of effort or intensity. The challenge with girls basketball is that it can sometimes be a roller coaster ride. We're hoping the ups and downs flatten out soon.”

But all hope is not lost for the team. With a 3-6 record in section play with three section games reaming, Keystone Oaks is very much alive in the playoff chase. The squad took one step closer to the postseason with a 57-43 win over South Fayette last week.

From the opening tip, the Golden Eagles were able to control the tempo of the game. Seven players scored baskets in the first quarter as Keystone Oaks jumped out to a 15-5 lead. The squad extended its lead to 30-13 by halftime and it never looked back.

Lexy Mercuri led the team with 13 points.

It was the second game between the teams this season as Keystone Oaks fell to the Lions, 54-43, on Dec. 20.

“We switched from our half-court defense to a 2-3 zone this time,” Presto said. “We wanted to keep kids out of foul trouble and get better rebound opportunities.”

Since their 2-6 start, the Golden Eagles have gone 6-4 as it has made up for lost ground in the section. South Park (8-1) and Trinity (6-2) are the only teams to clinch a playoff berth. South Fayette (5-3), Moon (4-4), Keystone Oaks (3-6) and Quaker Valley (3-6) are all still in contention for the final two spots.

The team's defense has been a catalyst for the late season rally. After allowing 54 or more points in each of its first six games, Keystone Oaks had limited teams to an average of 42.5 points per game since.

“We have gotten a lot better on defense,” sophomore forward Maryah Agurs said.

The team's experience will also provide to be invaluable. Seniors Maryssa Agurs – a Mercyhurst commit – and Jillian Welch and juniors Kayla Brownlee and Mercuri have been key contributors to the team for years not to mention senior Kylie Brinning and Mariah Berman and sophomores Alexa Valforte and Maryah Agurs being key reserves. Jacie Mangold has stepped in and played big minutes after transferring from West Allegheny.

“It is nice because we do have players who have gone through it all before,” Presto said. “Every section game is a battle. We just need to continue making progress every game.”

The Golden Eagles will need to win its final three games – at Quaker Valley, home against Moon and at Montour – and need a little help down the stretch to reach the postseason but the players aren't going to let a slow start take away the chance for a strong finish.

“I think we can do it,” Maryah Agurs said. “We lost to Moon by only a few points in the first game. I think we can beat them this time.”

Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @NSmith_Trib.

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