Penn-Trafford girls again stymie Plum
By Bill Beckner Jr.
Published: Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, 10:48 p.m.
The constricting grasp that the first round of the WPIAL girls basketball playoffs has on Plum keeps getting tighter.
And Penn-Trafford continues to be a thumping headache for the Mustangs.
Plum suffered its fifth straight first-round defeat — and its sixth straight overall loss to Penn-Trafford dating to 2008 — falling 46-43 in a Class AAAA opening-round game Friday night at Penn Hills' sleek gymnasium.
“It was a game of runs, and we finished on the short end of it,” Plum coach Bernie Pucka said. “I think when we got so far ahead, it kind of turned into a mental thing for us.”
No. 7 seed Penn-Trafford, which also defeated Plum, 50-40, in the first round last year, rallied from a 13-point deficit in the third quarter. It also overcame a seven-plus minute stretch without a basket, to advance to the quarterfinals, where No. 2 seed Mt. Lebanon (16-5) awaits.
“Our defense fueled us and helped us come back,” Penn-Trafford coach John Giannikas said. “I don't know what it is about us and Plum, but I can tell you one thing, we don't want to see Plum anymore.
“Our kids had to fight, and they willed themselves to this win.”
No. 10 Plum (15-8) tied it 43-43 with 38.9 seconds left.
Athena Biondi hit a free throw with 23.3 to make it 44-43, and Plum had a chance, but Krista Pietropola's off-balance shot missed.
“We want the ball in her hands in that situation,” Pucka said. “She's the go-to.”
Casey Aunkst was fouled with 0.05 left and made both of her attempts for a 46-43 advantage. Maria Palarino stole the inbounds for Penn-Trafford.
Aunkst led the Warriors with 15 points, Palarino added 14, and Kaila Simcoviak had 11, including three 3-pointers.
Pietropola led Plum with 17, and 6-foot-4 Courtney Zezza had 12.
“I think we were playing not to lose (in the fourth quarter),” Pucka said. “We got hesitant, anxious and nervous and didn't take our time.”
Plum opened the second half on a roll, scoring the first 12 points of the third quarter to build a 32-20 lead.
It held Penn-Trafford (17-6) without a field goal for more than eight minutes.
But Aunkst's 3-pointer for Penn-Trafford at the third-quarter buzzer made it 36-28 and seemed to spark the Warriors.
“That helped us cut it to single digits; that was a big shot,” Giannikas said.
Plum went on a 9-0 run in the second quarter to brush off a slow start and take a 19-14 advantage.
But back-to-back 3-pointers by Simcoviak allowed the Warriors to tie it 20-20 at halftime.
The loss ends a quality run for Plum's core of seven seniors.
“They left their thumbprint on this program,” Pucka said.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.
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