Penns Valley assistant coach Ben Barnhart called timeout with the Rams down 16 points in the fourth quarter. With seven minutes to go, Thursday night’s District 6 playoff tilt could have gone one of two ways.
“I said, ‘It’s now or never,’” Barnhart recalled. “This is a one-and-done situation. ... You can either rally around each other and make this a game, or this is going to get away from us.”
Penns Valley chose the former, eventually tying the contest with less than a minute to go. But the team’s comeback effort fell short.
The No. 6-seed Rams lost 52-48 to No. 3-seed Forest Hills in the quarterfinals of the District 6 Class 3A playoffs. Penns Valley junior Logan Snyder led all scorers with 15 points, while Aaron Tobias and Zach Braucht each contributed nine for the Rams (12-10). Forest Hills senior Adam Cecere led the Rangers with 13 points.
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Penns Valley’s season is over, while the Rangers move on to the district semifinals, where they will face either No. 2-seed Richland or No. 7-seed Cambria Heights. Had the Rams advanced, they would have reached the state tournament as one of the top-four District 6 Class 3A qualifiers.
But even in defeat, Barnhart believes Penns Valley ought to be proud of the way it battled. Head coach Terry Glunt missed the game due to a family emergency, leaving the assistant to make his varsity coaching debut. And while the fourth quarter didn’t start out as planned, Barnhart made a critical adjustment in the final period.
In that timeout, when Barnhart challenged the Rams to dig deep, he switched from the team’s traditional 2-3 zone defense to a man-to-man, full-court press. It created chaos.
“We got some quick, easy buckets off of that,” Barnhart said. “That got the momentum rolling for us.”
Forest Hills called timeout more than once to try and calm things down, but the Rams were persistent. A pair of Tobias free throws, after being fouled for a one-and-one opportunity at the line, knotted things up late in the fourth.
But in the dying seconds, Penns Valley couldn’t close. Rangers guard Mitchell Chunta hit a 3-pointer with 18 seconds left, Snyder missed his game-tying attempt on the other end, and Forest Hills was fouled before hitting one at the line to win by four.
Barnhart commended Penns Valley’s three seniors — Cole Breon, Cameron Shaffer and Andrew Long — on their contributions and lauded the Rams’ final push.
“For the guys not to have their head coach there and still battle was big,” the assistant said. “The effort was there. The intensity was there. It was a total team effort.”