It was a night to make some history for the Penns Valley girls’ basketball program.
A little drama was thrown in as well.
In the first District 6 girls’ playoff game in their gym, the Lady Rams raced to a big early lead, then held off a furious Ligonier Valley comeback for a 60-50 victory Tuesday.
The win sent No. 5 seed Penns Valley to the Class 3A quarterfinals against No. 4 Central on Thursday, and it also delivered coach Karen McCaffrey her 300th career victory.
“This was one we wanted to win. This was awesome,” said guard Emma Butler, who netted a game-high 18 points and added four steals. “We wanted to make it a great night for her.”
It also might have been the final varsity basketball game in the ancient gym, with a proposal for a new gymnasium in the works for next season. Upsets could still bring the girls’ or boys’ teams back home for one more.
“End it on a good note,” joked Butler, who paced a trio in double figures, with Kourtney Beamesderfer posting 16 points, four assists and four steals, and Isabella Culver adding 11 points and six rebounds. Jordan Andrus also pulled down six rebounds.
Olivia Miller’s 16 points led Ligonier Valley (8-15), although eight of those points were scored from the foul line in the final 4:37. Beamesderfer stifled her on offense for much of the game.
“Kourtney really stepped up and she really was our leader,” McCaffrey said. “She hit some big shots in the first half and played some great (defense) on (Miller), who is averaging 18 points a game. Kourtney was outstanding.”
McCaffrey spread the credit for reaching the coaching milestone, including six 1,000-point scorers under her guidance, an understanding and helpful family, and assistant coaches Chris Vancas, Laura Tobias, Mike Durn and Rob Irwin over parts of her 19 seasons.
“It wasn’t all me,” she said. “It was a full team effort.”
The same could be said for Penns Valley (16-7), which scored 11 of the game’s first 13 points. It also caused a dozen first-half turnover by Ligonier Valley and built the margin to 35-18 by halftime. Capped by a steal and layup with five seconds left, Butler scored 16 of her points in the first half.
“This could be her 300th win; this was the first district game at home for the girls’ basketball team,” Butler said. “We knew we wanted to start off fast.”
The speedy opening contrasted the team falling behind 10-0 in each of its last two games, but the hosting Lady Rams knew they needed to pounce on a visiting team that had just spent 2 1/2 hours on a bus.
“It was brutal,” Ligonier Valley coach Tim Gustin said. “That first half we dug ourselves a big hole. (Penns Valley is) young but they seem to have a lot of experience. They play very well.”
When Culver found Peyton Homan for a layup with 3:38 left in regulation, it appeared the win was safe at 51-33, the largest margin of the game. But Ligonier Valley mounted a furious comeback, taking advantage of some shaky Penns Valley turnovers and foul shooting while Miller was making hers from the line. A 7-0 Ligonier Valley run made the lead look a little tenuous with 2:32 left, but Culver took the ensuing inbounds pass coast-to-coast for a bucket, and the margin was never closer than eight.
“With our youth, through experience we will learn,” McCaffrey said. “It’s good to be in those situations, because the farther you go in the playoffs, the more you are in those situations. We have to be able to handle it.”
With a Mountain League rival that won both regular-season meetings against the Lady Rams on the schedule for Thursday, how did McCaffrey plan to celebrate her milestone Tuesday night?
“Writing practice plans for (Wednesday),” McCaffrey joked.