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Mt. Pleasant beats Kittanning, earns date with No. 1 Chartiers Valley

| Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, 12:21 a.m.

A year after an extended stay in the WPIAL playoffs, Kittanning checked out early.

And Mt. Pleasant is booked for at least one more night.

Mitch Matlas hit four 3-pointers and scored a game-high 20 points, Marcus Malara had 17, Luke Liprando 15 and Ryan Gumbita 10 to lead Mt. Pleasant to a 70-53 win in a Class AAA preliminary-round game Friday night at Penn Hills.

Mt. Pleasant advances to play top-seeded Chartiers Valley (21-1) in the first round. Kittanning ends its season at 7-16.

A back-and-forth game for the better part of three quarters, it wasn't until the fourth quarter that the Vikings gained commanding separation.

Kittanning trailed by just five early in the fourth, but Mt. Pleasant surged to the finish with a 24-point final quarter.

The game was moved from Hempfield due to a weather emergency from a shortage of salt in that area. Mt. Pleasant salted this one away with an 11-0 run to post its first playoff win since 2010.

“We have good, solid senior leadership, and it showed tonight,” Mt. Pleasant coach Tony Splendore said. “Our guys have kept their composure in every game we've played except maybe the two with Uniontown. We shared the ball well.”

Alek Schaffer led Kittanning with 20 points, and Noah Kunst chipped in 15.

Kittanning, in the playoffs for an unprecedented third straight year, couldn't solve a team it had never played in the postseason.

The Wildcats made the quarterfinals last season for the first time since 1982, but the reality of how difficult it can be to consistently advance in the playoffs greeted the team like more snow.

“It's been kind of a pattern for us this year when we get to certain points in games we miss layups and give them the momentum,” Kittanning coach Bill Henry said. “We end up doing something not in our design and that causes problems.”

Splendore isn't much for history. All he knows is that his here-and-now team is moving on after losing in the preliminary round to Knoch last season.

“I think our guys were a lot more comfortable tonight (than last year's playoffs),” Splendore said. “They were more confident.”

Henry was most impressed with the 6-foot-4 Malara.

“He did a great job on the boards,” Henry said. “They're a strong, experienced and balanced team.”

Kittanning tried a box-and-1 defense on Matlas, but that allowed other players to flourish.

“That opened things up,” Splendore said. “And if Mitch misses a shot, it doesn't affect him. That's what good shooters do.”

Bill Beckner is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com.

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