Mt. Pleasant girls hope lessons learned pay dividends in rematch with EF

| Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 9:57 p.m.

Even at this late stage of the season, the members of the Mt. Pleasant girls basketball team are still learning about their own identity as they forge ahead in the PIAA Class AAA playoffs.

On Saturday, the Vikings were put to the test, but kept their season alive thanks to a 58-51 overtime victory over District 6 champion Huntingdon.

“We learned that despite whatever obstacles we face, if we stick together, communicate and stay with the plan, we can come out on top,” Mt. Pleasant coach Scott Giacobbi said.

The PIAA win was Mt. Pleasant's first since earning a play-in victory over Bradford in 2011.

“This is a very meaningful win for our program in a couple of ways,” Giacobbi said. “First, it's the payoff for a long season and off-season of hard work and time spent in the gym to get there. Further, it's March, and we're still practicing. The longer season and extra practices mean that the underclass players get more work for next year. The girls appreciate the time with each other and camaraderie, too.”

In order to keep practicing, the Vikings will have to beat Elizabeth Forward in the second round of the tournament at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Fox Chapel High School.

Unlike Huntingdon, Mt. Pleasant is very familiar with Elizabeth Forward. The two teams have met in the regular season in each of the past two seasons. The Warriors won each of those contests, including a 57-45 victory in January at Elizabeth Forward.

But just as the Vikings learned valuable team lessons during their win over Huntingdon, they also believe the knowledge they gained in their most recent loss to Elizabeth Forward could serve them well in the rematch.

“With EF, we learned that we can compete with one of the better teams in the WPIAL,” Giacobbi said. “Familiarity helps when playing a team previously in the season in order to gauge the match-up.”

The Warriors (21-4) and the Vikings (16-9) are the WPIAL's fourth- and fifth-place teams, respectively, and Giacobbi is expecting a tough battle. He pointed to one major area in which Mt. Pleasant must be better in the rematch.

“This time, we must do a better job rebounding,” Giacobbi said. “Poor defensive rebounding on our part made a difference in the fourth quarter.”

Both teams have scoring depth, although Mt. Pleasant is missing leading scorer Alexa Szelong (18.5 points per game), who is out with a knee injury. The Vikings are paced by Elaina Fearer (12.3) and Morgan Barlock (11.1). The Warriors, who beat District 9 champion Bradford, 52-30, in the first round of the state tournament, feature six players that average at least 10 points per game. Kylie Owoc (14) and Abigail Sporio (13.8) are primary threats, followed by Alison Pastore (12.8), Olivia Barkley (12), Natalie Fekula (11.8) and Jessica Palady (10.3).

Despite Elizabeth Forward's many weapons, Mt. Pleasant should enter the game confident. The Vikings are no strangers to getting revenge in the playoffs against teams that beat them in the regular season. Mt. Pleasant dropped a 58-47 decision to Belle Vernon during the regular season, but beat the Leopards, 46-42, in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.

Giacobbi and the Vikings will be looking for similar results against the Warriors.

“In the sense of familiarity, we understand how they want to play and how they may react to our plan,” Giacobbi said. “In this way, we'll be better prepared than scouting enabled us to be last time. With Belle Vernon, this certainly made a difference. We are excited to be in the mix at this point. If we play a confident game, we can be successful. Our performance Saturday seems to indicate we will play with poise and confidence.”

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