Penns Valley’s Isabella Culver glided past a couple defenders to the rim, opening the fourth quarter with a lead-changing layup for the Lady Rams.
At the time, Culver felt energized, but knew she and her teammates had to build on their slim advantage.
Instead, the Lady Rams fell flat — and Central Cambria capitalized.
The Lady Red Devils ended Penns Valley’s season, defeating the Lady Rams 52-42 in Monday night’s District 6 Class 3A consolation semifinal. Central Cambria rattled off a heart-sinking 14-0 fourth-quarter run after Culver’s layup, moving on to face Juniata for the district’s fifth and final PIAA spot.
“A run happens when you put the ball in the net, and we were really struggling with that tonight,” Penns Valley coach Karen McCaffrey said. “Our shooters were really cold.”
Culver was the Lady Rams’ primary scorer, recording a game-high 20 points. The next closest contributor for Penns Valley (16-9) was Emma Butler, who added eight points.
Central Cambria (14-11) nearly had four players in double-digits. Mckenna Hayward and Lauren Stevens had 10 points apiece, while Paige Wess and Cassidy Bezek had nine each.
Penns Valley did well throughout the first three quarters of limiting the Lady Red Devils’ offensive fluidity, using a zone press to disrupt any rhythm Central Cambria tried to develop.
But it was Hayward who jump-started the Lady Red Devil scoring, nailing a corner 3-pointer to put her squad up 37-35 with five minutes left in regulation.
From that point on, it got ugly. A fastbreak layup by Stevens, corner trey by Abbie Young, and-one bucket by Stevens, and two free throws by Bezek distanced Central Cambria from Penns Valley.
Culver could feel the shift in momentum.
“We realized what was going on,” the sophomore said, “but we always had that feeling that we could catch up. We’ve always found a way to come back.”
Butler broke the debilitating run with 1:30 to go with a layup, but at that point, it was too late.
Central Cambria had a firm hold on the game.
“I thought we were patient on offense and got some good looks, especially down the stretch,” Lady Red Devils coach Brittany Sedlock said. “Those (3-pointers) really gave us the energy, gave us the momentum to keep it all going.”
Penns Valley didn’t do itself any favors, either. During the 14-0 stretch, the Lady Rams turned the ball over four times.
“You’re looking for a spark,” McCaffrey said. “When you’re coming down the court, time after time, with a missed shot or turnover, that gets tough.”
After holding a halftime lead and 27-20 advantage a few minutes into the third quarter, it was a less-than-ideal way for the Lady Rams to end their season.
But, all things considered, McCaffrey said she was still proud of her group.
Season-ending injuries to seniors Maci Ilgen and Alicia Houser hampered Penns Valley in the regular season, but Culver and three other starting sophomores led the Lady Rams’ rebound.
Penns Valley was two wins away from advancing to the PIAA tournament, and even moments after a disappointing defeat, Culver found positive in the situation.
“We have a lot of potential,” she said with a smile. “We just know that we have to get in the gym and start working toward next year.”