Undeterred by a taller opponent, not giving up with a seven-point deficit, the Penns Valley girls’ basketball team scratched and clawed into the lead in the closing moments of the first half and never let up.
The Lady Rams used a 10-point run to close the first half to take the lead for good, holding off Seton LaSalle 54-47 Friday night at Bald Eagle Area High School in the PIAA Class 3A first round. It marked the first state tournament win in coach Karen McCaffrey’s 25 years leading the program.
“This is just so awesome,” said junior guard Isabella Culver, who had 20 points, eight rebounds and five steals for the District 6 champions. “We’re all so excited. It’s just unbelievable.”
The Lady Rams (21-5) will face York Catholic in Tuesday’s second round.
Hannah Montminy, battling the flu, added 18 points and Jordan Andrus snared 16 rebounds in the winning effort.
Rebounding played a major role. The Rebels had three 6-foot players in the lineup, but Penns Valley found a way around, under and over the taller opponents.
“Boxing out — Coach has been pushing boxing out at all our practices,” Andrus said. “The teams we’re going to play are going to be taller than us, so if we want rebounds we have to box them out.”
That scrappy rebounding was most evident in what turned out to be the game’s turning point.
The Lady Rams trailed 24-17 just past the midpoint of the second half when they rattled off a 10-0 run to close the frame. Culver had eight of the points, including a put-back bucket to give her team the lead for good with 16 seconds left before halftime. Culver leaped high over a Rebel player and swiped the ball out of her opponent’s hands before making the basket.
“They came out physical and I knew the referees were going to let us play,” Culver said of the play. “I felt I might as well take some chances and go for it and get that ball.”
McCaffrey knew getting rebounds against the taller team would be important.
“We were very scrappy tonight,” McCaffrey said, crediting a scrimmage against State College on Wednesday for helping battle a taller opponent.
The late surge of points gave them a three-point lead at the break, and the lead never disappeared.
“That made us feel more confident,” Andrus said. “When we got ahead we were like, ‘We can do this. We’ve got it. We just have to believe.’”
Penns Valley also forced 23 turnovers, 12 off steals, even though the Lady Rams hardly used their typical full-court press. McCaffrey did not think it would be effective with the quick guards of Seton LaSalle.
“We were going to make them work for every bucket tonight,” McCaffrey said. “They had to work at the offensive end.”
Even facing a handful of first-half deficits, the Lady Rams were undeterred.
“Whenever we were down, we never really had a doubt,” Culver said. “We knew we had it in us. We had to keep coming back.”