The Penns Valley girls’ basketball team got back to what they do best Friday night after giving up a season-worst 78 points to Penn Cambria in last week’s District 6 championship.
“All this week we practiced defense, defense, defense,” senior Bella Culver said.
The Lady Rams suffocated South Park in the opening half of Friday’s 49-42 victory in the first round of the PIAA Class 3A Girls’ Basketball Championships at Bald Eagle Area High School.
South Park didn’t crack the scoreboard until nearly seven minutes into the game. The Lady Rams allowed just one field goal in each of the first two quarters, and they limited South Park to just 2-of-20 shooting (10 percent) in the first 16 minutes.
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“Defensively, we couldn’t have played any better than what we did in the first half,” Penns Valley coach Karen McCaffrey said. “Bella Culver did an outstanding job on their big girl (Maura Huwalt) inside, Emma Butler did a great job on No. 14 (Cassidy Zandier), and Jordan Andrus came and cleaned up almost every rebound defensively.”
Penns Valley (20-6) advances to the second round of the PIAA championships, where they will take on Beaver on Tuesday night at a time and place to be determined. The WPIAL’s sixth-seeded Beaver knocked off Mercyhurst Prep 55-54 in the opening round of the playoffs Friday night.
The Lady Rams made their supporters sweat out their victory a bit at the end after opening up a 36-21 lead with six minutes remaining in the game.
South Park would cut the lead to 42-37 with 53 seconds left after a sloppy 30-second stretch by Penns Valley resulted in five unanswered points for the Lady Eagles.
Friday’s high scorer Hannah Montminy helped ice the game late by hitting her final six free throws in the last 87 seconds of play to close out the victory.
Andrus, who finished with 16 rebounds, also added two critical free throws after grabbing an offensive board after Culver missed a free throw with 21 seconds left.
“We practice those free throws every day,” said Culver, who finished with 19 points. “When it comes down to it at the end, free throws are very important.”
Culver said the team re-established their goals for the rest of the season after they failed to defend their district title last week.
Penns Valley won a state playoff game last season before bowing out to York Catholic in the Sweet 16. The Lady Rams are looking to make history with another win Tuesday night, which would get the program to the Elite 8 of the PIAA championships for the first time in school history.
“The seniors just don’t want to quit,” McCaffrey said. “I’ve got seniors that have been playing together for a lot of years, and they don’t want it to ever be their last practice or their last game.”