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Plum boys hope to close games, regular season strong

Jerin Steele
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Spencer Wilson starts at center for Plum, which was 3-6 in Section 3-5A entering last Friday.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Plum head basketball coach Hart Coleman calls in a play against Kiski Area Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019 at Plum.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Plum’s Walter Holyfield (35) blocks Kiski Area’s Kyrell Hutcherson (5) Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019 at Plum.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Plum’s Lamar Whiting (11) competes against Kiski Area Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019 at Plum.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Plum’s Walter Holyfield (35) goes up for a shot against Kiski Area’s Ryne Wallace (3) Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019 at Plum.
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Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Plum’s Connor Moss (2) goes up for a shot between Kiski Area’s Kyrell Hutcherson (5) and Nick Smith (35) Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019 at Plum.

Plum boys basketball coach Hart Coleman had seen the same scenario play out too many times this season: Play strong for three quarters and take the lead only to see that lead — and the victory — slip away in the fourth.

After a 55-52 loss at Armstrong last Friday, the latest late-game disappointment, Coleman decided to forgo a typical practice Monday and instead had an open dialogue between the staff and the players on what the team needed to do to finish games.

“We wanted to get the boys’ opinion on what we needed to do differently,” Coleman said. “We had been putting them in position to win throughout the season, but we have given quite a few games away. They basically felt that we needed to just stay focused, persevere, and if we get down to keep together and continue to work together to fight through everything.”

The Mustangs put those words into action Tuesday against Kiski Area by grinding out a 56-52 victory. In the first meeting with the Cavaliers, Plum let a late lead evaporate. The Mustangs struggled from the floor in the fourth quarter Tuesday, scoring only seven points, but they limited Kiski Area to nine points.

The win provided a confidence boost, and the Mustangs are hopeful it can start a new trend entering the latter part of the season.

“When we went back into the locker room after the game, the guys were really excited,” Coleman said. “We know that it was just one victory, but it was a mental victory as well as a physical victory. We knew we had the opportunity to do this early in the season, and we’d been really focused on getting back to being the team we knew were capable of being this season.”

Plum (3-12, 3-6 in Section 3-5A) began an important stretch of games Friday at Hampton. With five games remaining, the Mustangs were two games behind the Talbots for fourth place and the final playoff spot.

Plum also lost a fourth-quarter lead against Hampton in their first meeting. Entering Friday, seven of Plum’s losses were by fewer than 10 points, including four of the six section defeats.

“I’m not slighting any of the other teams in our section, but I do feel we’ve given some games away,” Coleman said. “We gave away the Kiski Area game the first time around. We lost the Hampton game in the fourth quarter, and we gave away the Armstrong game last Friday. We feel like we should be three games on the positive side within the conference.”

Plum has had to deal with injuries to starters Matt Carroll (wrist) and Chase Fink (ankle). Coleman is hopeful to get Fink back by next weekend and said Carroll is a couple of weeks away from returning.

Senior Lamar Whiting and sophomore Connor Moss have led the team in scoring and have taken on more with Carroll and Fink out. Moss had 20 points in the Kiski Area win, and Whiting scored 18.

“I sat down with Lamar and Connor and really talked about to them about being leaders of the team,” Coleman said. “With them being returning starters from last year, they really needed to start increasing their intensity on both ends of the court. They have really led us both offensively and defensively. The great thing is because of where we are right now, everyone has followed them and increased their intensity.”

Walt Holyfield, who was the team’s sixth man last year, has stepped into a starter’s role and had a half dozen blocks in the Kiski Area win. Spencer Wilson has slotted in at center, and Coleman said he has made a positive impact along with Ian Dryburgh the team’s other starter.

Plum will finish section play with Mars, Franklin Regional, Shaler and Indiana.

The Mustangs are on the outside looking in at the postseason, but if they can continue to close games like they did against Kiski Area, they might be able to get themselves back into the conversation.

“We’re still holding out hope that we will be one of those four teams in the postseason, but we have to get the rest of these games,” Coleman said. “We’re going to take them one game at a time and one team at a time.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.