Penns Valley last won a District 6 girls’ basketball championship in 1997, before anyone on this year’s Lady Rams team was even born.
Not only was that the last district title, it was the last time the program had even reached the district final or qualified for the PIAA tournament.
The wait was well worth it for the Lady Rams, who were Class 2A champions in 1997.
Penns Valley captured the Class 3A title Friday night by staving off Everett 52-50 at the Mount Aloysius College Athletic Convention and Wellness Center.
“We won it in 1997, and I was a third-year coach here at that time,” Lady Rams coach Karen McCaffrey said. “It’s taken 21 years to win another one. Nobody understands how hard it is to get there, especially in Class 3A and Class 2A, because there are so many teams.
“This group of girls is one of my favorite teams,” McCaffrey said. “There are no superstars, but all the players share everything and support each other. I’m just thrilled for them.”
Penns Valley (20-5) will open the PIAA tournament next Friday against the sixth-place team out of District 7. That team will be decided after the WPIAL championship game Saturday afternoon.
The district champion Lady Rams, the third seed in the tournament, got 17 points from junior guard Emma Butler and 13 from sophomore forward Hannah Montminy to secure the title victory.
“We came here ready to play,” Butler said. “We played pretty good defense, and we shot well (making 17 of 42 from the floor and 11 of 15 from the foul line). Everett (provided) great competition. I knew that we would have to hang in there and play good defense at the end.”
Penns Valley had a 41-29 lead early in the fourth quarter, but fifth-seeded Everett (21-5) staged a furious rush and drew to within 52-50 on a 3-pointer by sophomore forward Kaitlyn Maxwell with six seconds remaining.
Maxwell — who scored a game-high 27 points — got the ball back after a steal by teammate Brooke Colledge, but Maxwell’s 35-foot jumper came up short as Penns Valley snared the rebound and secured the championship trophy.
“It’s just an amazing feeling. All the hard work that we’ve put in has paid off,” Montminy said. “To win (the district championship) with this team is really special.”
Penns Valley led 50-41 after junior Isabella Culver made two free throws with 1:17 left, but Everett closed strong on a 9-2 run in an attempt to pull the game out.
“It was a great high school basketball game,” said Everett coach Keith Moyer, whose team also advances to the state tournament. “Both teams played hard. We just came up one possession short.”
With a week to prepare, the Lady Rams now turn their attention to their first venture into the state tournament in more than two decades — though they will have the weekend to savor their chance to hoist the district trophy.
“Give Everett a lot of credit — they’re a really good basketball team,” McCaffrey said. “But we never stopped fighting.”