Shock soon gave way to disappointment in the moments following Penns Valley’s unlikely loss Tuesday night.
Penns Valley’s girls made the long trek from the locker room to their bus barely saying a word, some with moist eyes and others with blank stares. Their season had ended minutes before at DuBois Area High School’s gym, after a 62-59 loss to Beaver in the second round of the PIAA Class 3A Girls’ Basketball Championships.
It was the end of a solid season, and a historic two-year run with two PIAA berths, but that didn’t soothe the raw emotion of watching what at one time was a double-digit lead slip away in the final 30 seconds of the game. Those milestones were no consolation to a Lady Rams team that opened Tuesday’s contest on a 13-0 run, only to watch their opponent take its first lead of the game with less than a minute to play.
“My heart’s breaking for them right now,” Penns Valley coach Karen McCaffrey said afterward, beneath a pained smile.
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Tuesday’s game featured a seesaw of runs. But the important one happened at the end — when Beaver overcame an eight-point deficit in the fourth quarter and, with one minute left, trailed just 58-57.
The crowd erupted, with Beaver’s entire bench leaving its seats, after Beaver sophomore Emma Pavelek nailed a layup with 29 seconds left to give the Lady Bobcats their first lead of the game, 59-58. Penns Valley’s Hannah Montminy missed a contested jump shot from mid-range, Beaver rebounded, and the Lady Rams were forced to foul with 13.3 seconds left in regulation.
Shrieks from Beaver’s bench — and the crowd — permeated a crowded gym, with a handful of fans waiting in the hallways for the boys’ 7:30 p.m. game. It was the first time all night Beaver had the edge. Beaver’s Ashlee Karas hit both free throws to give her team the 61-58 lead; then the Lady Rams and Lady Bobcats exchanged another pair of free throws, with each team making 1-of-2.
That gave Beaver a 62-59 lead with 0.8 seconds and a prayer left for Penns Valley — before Pavelek intercepted the inbounds pass to end the game.
“It’s a surreal feeling,” Pavelek said, “to come back from 13-0 and end up winning the game. It really feels like it was our season this year.”
With the win, Beaver advances to the Elite Eight of PIAAs and will face Central Cambria on Friday at a time and place to be determined. It’s the furthest a Beaver basketball team has ever made it into the state tournament.
Penns Valley was also trying to chase history Tuesday night. A win would’ve propelled it to the furthest the girls’ basketball program has made it in the state tournament. Instead, the seniors wrapped up historic careers in disappointing fashion. They won a district title last season — the program’s first since 1997 — and were a runner-up this season. After a 21-year absence in the state tournament, Penns Valley has now been there in back-to-back seasons.
“They’ve done what no other team has ever done in Penns Valley,” McCaffrey said of her seniors. “So they’re going to leave a big hole. Not only are they going to leave a big hole in girls’ basketball, but they’re going to leave a hole in Penns Valley athletics.”
Senior Bella Culver scored 13 points, while Montminy scored a team-high 26 points — including 10 of her team’s points in the opening 13-0 run.
The game started to turn after halftime, however, when Beaver utilized a box-and-1 to disrupt Montminy. The junior scored 19 points in the first half and was held scoreless in the final period.
“Probably the best thing they did was go to the box-and-1 on Hannah,” McCaffrey acknowledged. “And that slowed the offense down a little bit.”
Added Beaver coach Greg Huston: “That was kind of our last resort. We didn’t really want to do that because we weren’t sure how that would work but, thankfully, we did. I think that was the difference in the game.”
Pavelek scored 12 of her game-high 31 points in the final quarter for Beaver. With four fouls, Culver clearly didn’t want to risk being overly aggressive.
It wasn’t the end McCaffrey wanted for her seniors — Culver, Emma Butler, Paige Kubalak, Jordan Andrus and Olia Corman — but the sting of losing, and that long walk to the bus, won’t change all the Lady Rams accomplished.
“I basically told them it was privilege to be able to coach the seniors I had,” McCaffrey said. “Unfortunately every team, unless you are state champs, lose their last one. And it’s always hard.
“I think, on another day, I think we win. Both teams played their heart out — and they hit shots down the stretch.”