Penns Valley girls’ basketball coach Karen McCaffrey couldn’t help but think of four words as her squad entered the fourth quarter of Thursday night’s District 6 Class 3A quarterfinal.
Here we go again.
The Lady Rams made it a habit of storming back to win games late this season, but it wasn’t to be at Central.
Despite a final-period surge, Penns Valley fell to the Lady Dragons 54-47, eliminating the Lady Rams from District 6’s main bracket. Penns Valley, which faces Central Cambria on Monday in the consolation bracket, can still reach the PIAA playoffs as District 6’s fifth and final team with a pair of wins.
But it was tough for Penns Valley (16-8) to think about that immediately after falling to Central (18-5).
McCaffrey knew her young squad, missing seniors Maci Ilgen and Alicia Houser to season-ending injuries, had what it took to mount a comeback.
“I can’t tell you the number of games we’ve been behind going into the fourth quarter, and we’ve come out to win it,” the coach said. ‘We always think that we can, even tonight.”
Paige Kubalak led the Lady Rams with 12 points, followed by Jordan Andrus’ 10. Emma Butler and Isabella Culver added seven each, as well.
Central featured three players in double-figures. Hannah Johnston and Cassie Mock tallied 15 points apiece, while Tierney Fernandes chipped in 10.
Thanks to Johnston, Mock and Fernandes, Central led by nine at halftime, but the Lady Rams saw an opening in the third quarter. Johnston racked up her fourth foul 62 seconds into the second half.
“It was going to have to be a team effort,” Central coach Rob Mock said.
Much to McCaffrey’s chagrin, the Lady Dragons held up. Central led by nine when Johnston exited and maintained a nine-point advantage when the third quarter wrapped up in her absence.
“I thought we had opportunities to score that we didn’t,” Penns Valley’s coach said. “We missed a couple that we should’ve made. We just didn’t capitalize.”
Still, that comeback mentality remained. The Lady Rams went on a 9-3 run to start the fourth quarter, and Central’s lead hovered between three and four for much of the period.
With a minute left, though, Penns Valley almost got over the hump. Kourtney Beamesderfer floated in a left-handed layup to cut Central’s lead to 49-47 with a minute to go in regulation.
Penns Valley forward Peyton Homan stole it away from the Lady Dragons as they crossed half-court seconds later, drove on the fastbreak and dished it to Culver underneath the basket.
But Culver couldn’t handle the pass in a crowded lane, Central took it right back, and Cassie Mock was fouled. She hit both free throws to put her side ahead 51-47 with 24.1 seconds remaining.
Penns Valley’s late-game push was thwarted.
“Credit to them though,” Lady Dragons coach Rob Mock said of Penns Valley. “You could tell the last time they were here (a 15-point loss on Jan. 27) they were out-of-sync. Not tonight.”
The Lady Rams’ blowout loss to Central a month ago was a few games after Ilgen and Houser went down, and Penns Valley was still finding itself.
Now, McCaffrey’s crew is more cohesive, with better resolve.
The loss to Central may sting for a bit, but Penns Valley’s coach is pleased with where her players are headed.
“We told them before the game, ‘This is all a learning experience for us right now. If you come in here (to the locker room) at the end of the game and know you played your guts out, we’re going to be proud,’” McCaffrey said. “We walked in, smiled, and said that they played their guts out.”