The Penns Valley girls’ basketball team got the shots it needed, had the desired pace in the game.
But when the ball keeps rolling off the rim, the story doesn’t end well.
“Sometimes they just don’t fall,” junior guard Emma Butler said. “What can you do about it?”
All the Lady Rams could do is pack up and head home after their spectacular season came to an end Tuesday night.
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Cold shooting froze out Penns Valley in a 52-37 loss to York Catholic in a PIAA Class 3A second-round game at Central Dauphin East High School.
The Fighting Irish (15-13), who took control with a 12-0 run over the end of the third quarter and start of the fourth, earned a trip to to Friday’s quarterfinals to meet East Allegheny. They were led by Katy Rader’s 13 points, 11 from Gina Citrone and 10 from Abby Pilkey.
The Lady Rams (21-6) were paced by Isabella Culver’s 12 points and eight apiece from Butler and Jordan Andrus in the first foray into the PIAA second round, and just the second district title, in coach Karen McCaffrey’s 25 years leading the program.
“We made history this year,” Butler said. “We got another District 6 title, going to the sweet 16 for the first time — it’s a euphoric feeling. I think we really had the community behind us, we obviously had our student section behind us, they all traveled an hour-and-a-half … to have the sense of community around the whole team this season was amazing.”
However, the huge turnout of fans could not help the ball slip through the net. Penns Valley shot just 26 percent from the field — and many of those shots were layups.
It was evident even in the first quarter it was going to be a tough night. The Lady Rams forced eight Irish turnovers in just the opening period, but had only six points to show for it and only one basket was on a fast break — the game’s opening points by Culver.
“Sometimes it’s mental,” Butler said. “We have the skills there, sometimes it’s a wide-open layup. I always say the hardest shot in basketball is a wide-open, right-handed layup. It’s all up here (tapping her temple).”
Penns Valley has had slow starts this season, so McCaffrey was hoping eventually her team would start to heat up, but she also knew there were plenty of easy buckets that didn’t get into the scorebook.
“The pace of the game was what we liked,” McCaffrey said. “We want to play it fast, we want to play it up-and-down. We wanted to push the action. We pushed, but we just didn’t finish.”
The Lady Rams’ 25 percent shooting in the first half could have been even worse if not for Butler driving down the lane through the York Catholic defense three times in the final 3:15 for buckets. Those scores helped cut the margin to just a three-point deficit at the break.
“It was awesome,” Butler said. “When you’re this far in states, everyone’s going to be a competitor, so to only be down by one 3-point shot is amazing against a team like York Catholic. It was a good feeling and we came to play hard and we definitely did that.”
York Catholic coach Kevin Bankos, however, was determined not to let that happen again. He set up a matchup zone defense to deny the angles to the basket. They also had a full-court trapping press, turning the defensive tables on the Lady Rams to create turnovers — that did turn into Irish baskets.
“They’re so quick and we knew coming into the game their strength was going to the basket,” Bankos said. “When they made their run at the end of the second quarter, that’s what it was. They got the ball on the wing, put their head down and went to the basket. They’re very good at it.”
Penns Valley held tough through most of the third despite more cold shooting, and was within five points after a Culver layup. But the Irish then rattled off the next 12 points, and the Lady Rams were never again within single digits.
“Throughout our run we’ve been shooting so well,” McCaffrey said. “Tonight we just had one of those nights, we just couldn’t put it in the hoop.”
Despite the loss, Penns Valley hit a lot of major milestones to get to Tuesday night, and Butler was hoping to get another shot at the Irish next season. The team will return most of the scoring leaders, with only Dayna Brown and Peyton Homan set to graduate, and they all will have some valuable experience.
“We’re not going to forget our senior leaders,” McCaffrey said. “I feel like we can be here again next year, but we wouldn’t have been this far without Peyton and Dayna. They kept us grounded all year.”