It’s something so simple, a shot from 15 feet away with no one trying to block the shot.
It’s drilled day after day in practice, and athletes work on it for so many more hours on their own.
But the simple free throw can still trip up teams.
“It’s tough knowing just at practice you can make them,” said Penns Valley senior Kylie Orndorf. “Then you get into a game and the pressure’s on, you just make one little mistake and it’s off.”
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It was certainly a point of frustration for the Lady Rams Thursday night in the District 6 Class AA basketball quarterfinals at Huntingdon High School.
Penns Valley made just 12 of its 23 attempts from the line, while Tyrone made 18 of 22 attempts. The six more made tries for the Lady Eagles was the exact difference Thursday night in a 46-40 win, advancing Tyrone to the semifinals and ending the Lady Rams’ season.
“The difference in the game was foul shooting,” Penns Valley coach Karen McCaffrey said. “... The worst part is we’re actually a pretty good shooting team. We practice them, we practice them in pressure situations, we go over it and over it and over it.”
It was especially evident in the fourth quarter, when Penns Valley made just 4 of 11 attempts.
“It’s frustrating because we’re making them in practice,” senior Cheyenne Swartz said. “You’re like, ‘OK, we’ve got this on the line.’ Then you miss one and you’re like, ‘Oh my god, did I really just miss one?’ It’s a lot of pressure.”
Whether it was pressure or something else, it wasn’t what the Lady Rams had in mind, especially for a program that has stressed getting to the foul line for years, and was part of the game plan heading into Thursday’s action.
“We tried to penetrate that zone (defense) a little bit,” McCaffrey said. “We wanted to get to the line tonight and we worked really hard at tryng to take the drive and felt we could be successful with that.”
“I don’t think we were feeling pressure,” senior Bethany Miller said. “Sometimes when you get up to the line, you don’t hold your follow-through long enough, or you move your hand to one side just a little bit and it throws off everything. I guess maybe we were thinking about it a little too much.”
While the free throws sealed the Lady Rams’ fate, it was a stretch in the third quarter that turned the game.
Penns Valley shot to a fast lead in the first half, keyed by the defense of Mackenzie Ironside. She scored 10 of her 12 points in the opening 16 minutes, including turning three steals into layups in the first quarter. The lead was as large as seven points, but a late Tyrone surge had the margin down to two points by halftime.
“We were so pumped up,” Swartz said. “We were just, like, ‘We have to keep it up, don’t give in.’ We just kept pumping each other up.”
The Lady Eagles were feeling pretty fortunate to only be down by two points despite shooting 5 of 18 from the floor amd committing nine turnovers.
“Penns Valley came out and they were so fired up, so intense and they had a great gameplan,” Tyrone coach Lucas Rhoades said. “They really battled us defensively. I told our girls, ‘We’re very lucky to be down by two at the half.’”
But the 23-21 Penns Valley lead was a 29-23 Tyrone advantage just 2:16 into the second half. The Lady Eagles forced four turnovers and seven straigth middled field goal attempts by the Lady Rams to open the frame.
“They came out and just threw a trap on us right away,” McCaffrey said. “We just weren’t ready for it, although we knew they’ve done that before.”
An Ironside bucket ended the run, and Penns Valley stayed close until another Lady Eagle burst had the margin at nine points midway through the fourth quarter, and when the free throws were not falling, the deficit proved to be too big.
“It was different than the first half,” Orndorf said. “It threw us off a bit and it took us a while to get back into it. That’s what hurt us a little bit.”
Miller added seven points and eight rebounds, Maci Ilgen pposted six points and nine rebounds and Ironside added three steals.
Sophomore Kasey Engle’s 21 points led the Lady Eagles, while Christine Finnley had 10 points and Alexis Cannistraci had eight rebounds, four steals, three assists and three blocks.
After a rocky start to the season, the Lady Rams were still happy with the way the final weeks played out, climbing to a second-place finish in the Mountain League behind the Lady Eagles.
“I am so proud of our team,” Miller said. “I love every single one of our girls and the experiences I had this year I am never going to forget.”
“It’s sad to see my seniors’ last game,” McCaffrey said. “I am so thankful I had the chance to coach Bethany, Cheyenne and Kylie. They gave us pretty much everything tonight.”