Penns Valley guard Emma Butler looked to head coach Karen McCaffrey and said all of four words.
“Coach, I’ve got these.”
And to her credit, the junior kept her word — knocking down a pair of elusive late-game free throws to ice the Lady Rams’ biggest win of the season.
Penns Valley edged Central 44-38 on Saturday afternoon at the “Ram Dome” behind Butler’s clutch play, Jordan Andrus’ long-range performance and Isabella Culver’s defensive efforts.
Two days after their first loss of the current campaign, the Lady Rams (7-1) rebounded by vanquishing a conference foe that caused them fits just a year ago. Last season, Central beat Penns Valley three times — twice in league play and again in districts.
Exacting a bit of vengeance, getting its mojo back quickly after defeat and seeing three upperclassmen lead the way, Penns Valley had itself a fine afternoon.
“One of our goals every year is to win our league,” McCaffrey said. “This certainly helps.”
What didn’t help, at least from the get-go, was Central center Kylie Metzger terrorizing the Lady Rams. Metzger scored eight points in less than five minutes to open the game — hitting an elbow jumper, faking two Penns Valley defenders on an up-and-under layup and hitting a pair of back-down buckets.
McCaffrey had to change something. Otherwise, Metzger would have sniffed 30 points.
So she moved Culver off Central’s leading scorer, Erin Brumbaugh, and onto the Dragons’ post-up nightmare. With the guard harassing her the rest of the afternoon, Metzger managed just two points in the remaining 27 minutes.
“Bella’s very wiry,” McCaffrey said with a chuckle. “The girls who play against her in practice always say, she knees and elbows you the entire time. They come out with bruises after they play against her.”
In the second quarter, after Culver nabbed another steal while defending Metzger, the Central scorer became frustrated and started subtly elbowing her to create separation.
Culver didn’t budge.
“It made me realize I was doing something right,” Culver said with a smile.
Despite keeping Metzger occupied, Penns Valley was tied 20-20 at halftime. McCaffrey’s team needed points.
For that, the Lady Rams — who “love to drive through five people to try to get to the hoop,” according to their coach — took what was in front of them.
Andrus knocked down her second 3-pointer of the game with five minutes remaining in the third quarter, completing a 7-0 run to begin the period. A few minutes later, Butler hit her third trey of the day to push Penns Valley’s lead out to 30-26.
Butler and Andrus — who finished with 17 and 16 points, respectively — weren’t done, either. Each of them hit a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, combining for seven total. Central didn’t have a single one.
“As soon as we hit a few threes and a couple layups, the score was getting further and further apart,” Butler said. “That gave us confidence.”
And Penns Valley almost glided to an easy win because of it. The Lady Rams led 42-31 with less than two minutes remaining in regulation. All they had to do was hit their free throws as Central fouled.
That proved to be troublesome.
Penns Valley connected on just 6 of 18 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter, and with less than 80 seconds remaining, Andrus, Culver and Hannah Montminy combined to miss eight straight from the charity stripe.
The Dragons mounted a near comeback, cutting Penns Valley’s lead to 42-38 with 31 seconds to go.
A few ticks later, though, Butler was fouled, and the junior cooly knocked them both down. At no point in the afternoon was the “Ram Dome” louder than after Butler’s free throws, when Penns Valley all but secured the win.
A win that meant quite a bit to Butler, Culver, Andrus and the Lady Rams.
A win that could propel them to that end-of-season conference title goal.
“It shows that we can do it,” Butler said confidently, “and that we can go far this year.”