Fast start propels Plum over Highlands

| Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, 11:06 p.m.

Teams hit hard by graduation squared off in the opening round of the Plum Tip-off Tournament on Friday night.

And at least for one night, the host Mustangs appeared to capably fill the holes left in their lineup.

Griffin Meyers canned three early 3-pointers, and Plum was on its way to a decisive 56-21 victory over Highlands.

Plum soared to a 23-0 lead before Highlands could enter the scoring column, with Meyers leading a balanced attack with 14 points.

The Mustangs will play Shaler in the tournament finals at 8 p.m. Saturday. Plum was eliminated by Shaler in last season's WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs.

Highlands will face former section rival Deer Lakes in the consolation game at 6 p.m..

“You don't ever expect that,” Mustangs coach Ron Richards said of his team's early surge.

“In the first game, you try to focus on the positives. Our point guard, Andrew Dawson, set the tone for us, picking up the intensity level and defending well.”

Dawson and Meyers replaced three guards who graduated this past spring — Nolan Cressler, Tarique Ellis and Anthony Garofalo.

Dawson got two baskets off steals early in the second quarter to complete the 23-0 run.

Meanwhile, the Golden Rams finally scored on a basket by freshman Tyler Alworth with 6:20 left in the first half.

Plum shot just 2 of 18 from the floor in the second quarter, but Highlands was too far behind to make up ground.

“We didn't adjust our offensive sets, and that's probably my fault,” said Golden Rams coach Tyler Stoczynski, who was making his head coaching debut.Stoczynski had to call two timeouts in the first seven minutes to try and stem the tide.

Plum committed just three turnovers in the first half.

“To not turn it over much, that's a positive,” Richards said.

“But in that second quarter, we couldn't even throw it in the ocean.”

One bright spot for Highlands was the play of sophomore Kaison Branch, who scored 15 of his team's 21 points, including 10 in the second half.

“We told Kaison at halftime to be more aggressive toward the basket, and he played well,” Stoczynski said.

Branch was also 5 of 7 from the foul line.

Plum senior Matt Dombrowski scored eight points as a reserve, a role that Richards expects to be repeated throughout the season.

“We don't consider Matt a bench player,” Richards said.

“We have two post players with Austin Dedert in there. Everyone wants to play small, and there's not too many kids these days who will accept that role.”

Both coaches were able to clear their benches, particularly in the fourth quarter with Plum in command.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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