Plum boys set to begin defense of section title
Last year, the Plum varsity boys basketball team rose to the top of a competitive Section 2-AAAA with an 11-3 record.
It outlasted five other teams for the title, and the sixth place team — McKeesport — finished with a 7-7 mark and was in the hunt for a playoff spot going into the final week.
Plum head coach Ron Richards said the section should be the same way again this year with a number of teams challenging for the title and the four tickets to the WPIAL playoffs.
“It’s the same as usual,” he said.
“The section is balanced with a lot of good teams. It’s hard to predict year in and year out. Everyone is kind of an unknown. I like our team a lot, and I like our chances.”
Richards said the first week of practices were what one would expect.
“There was some good and some not so good,” he said. “It’s about getting more consistent in practices. We’ve talked to the kids about the importance of not being on such a roller coaster in practices.”
The Mustangs enter the season having to replace a pair of key starters and contributors from the past several seasons — Austin Dedert and Nick Stotler.
Dedert now is a freshman on the St. Vincent College men’s basketball team, while Stotler is playing college baseball.
“We lost two really good players who were 60 percent of our scoring and nearly 100 percent of our rebounding,” Richards said.
Despite the graduation losses, Richards said a nice group of players returns.
That group is led by junior guard/forward James Edwards, who had a breakout season last year as a sophomore.
The all-section performer was a lethal 3-point shooter who was able to also drive to the basket. Richards said Edwards was equally effective on the defensive end
“He gained a year of valuable experience last year, and he’s bigger and stronger,” Richards said.
“He’s taking on more of a leadership role. Defenses will prepare for him differently because he will be more of a focus of the offense. He’s up to the challenge, and we expect him to have another strong season.”
Richards said that joining Edwards will be a mix of varsity veterans and others who played a lot last year on the JV team.
Senior forward Wil Fuhrer, senior guard Mike McGuire and junior guard Taylor Vivino lead a cast of players that include junior guard Patrick Crossey, junior forward Robert Deemer, senior guard/forward Adam Valvo and sophomore guard Kevin Brown.
Also looking to make an impact this season are senior guard Jake Mitolo, junior guards Jack Marold and Carlos Henderson and sophomore forward Adam Mahr.
“It’s the most depth we’ve had in a long time in terms of kids who are capable of playing varsity basketball,” Richards said.
“We’re still pretty young. The roster and rotation is still dominated by underclassmen.”
Richards said he saw some good things from Saturday’s scrimmage at North Allegheny.
The Mustangs are set to scrimmage at Upper St. Clair on Saturday at 9:30 a.m.
It is the final tune-up before the start of the season Dec. 5.
Plum again will host a tournament Dec. 5 and 6 at Plum High School.
It will be a round-robin format, as the Mustangs will open with Shaler at 7:45 p.m. on Dec. 5 and will play Knoch at 7:45 p.m. on Dec. 6.
The Mustangs dominated their two tip-off games last year, beating Highlands and Deer Lakes by an average of 35 points.
Gateway also will be at the Plum Tournament and will play Knoch at 6 p.m. on Dec. 5 and Shaler at 6 p.m. on Dec. 6.
Plum will travel to Kiski Area for its annual nonsection game with the Cavaliers on Dec. 9 at 7:45 p.m.
The Mustangs open section play Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Fox Chapel.
“The kids are just excited to get the season going,” Richards said.
“Even though they did a lot of work in the offseason and were very productive, there’s something about the first practices. The coaches are worried about preparation for games, the kids are just ready for the games.”
Michael Love is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5825 or at email@example.com.