During the course of a season, most teams come across "must win" games on their schedule.
That exact scenario applied to Panther Valley and Jim Thorpe on Thursday night as both teams fight to earn a spot in the District 11 AAA playoffs.
When everything was said and done it was the Panthers who moved one step closer to their post-season dreams, surging past the Olympians in the second half en route to a 46-41 Schuylkill League Division I victory.
Neither squad was exactly lighting it up from the field in the first half with Jim Thorpe leading 22-18 at intermission.
The Olympians' offense actually showed promise early on through unlikely hero Conner Ennis, who hit four three-pointers and scored 12 of Thorpe's first 22 points. Ennis was able to get open numerous times in the corner of the Panthers 1-3-1 zone after Panther defenders overplayed their assignments in coach Pat Crampsie's patented defense.
"In the first half, we didn't slow down their passes around the perimeter," said Crampsie. "Once we started forcing them to lob the ball back and forth around the top of the key we started to have some success."
Jim Thorpe (5-10) might have showed some ability to shoot the long ball in the first quarter, but their achilles heel, which has been their inability to score against zone defenses because of their poor outside shooting reared its ugly head once again. Thorpe was only able to muster 12 points between the second and third quarter.
"Our foul shooting, outside shooting, and turnovers came back to haunt us again," said Jim Thorpe coach Brian Carroll. "Darius (Clark) getting his third foul at the end of the first quarter really limited us offensively and we just stopped attacking the gaps as the game went on."
Even with all their offensive struggles the Olympians took the lead 38-36 late in the fourth on a nifty pass from Clark to Jaquan Brown for an inside bucket.
The Panthers (7-8) didn't waste anytime answering the Thorpe call, quickly passing the ball down court to a wide open Thad Ogozalek for a three-pointer that gave the Panthers a one-point advantage.
Steve Romanchik then gave Panther Valley a four-point lead converting a bucket inside while being fouled in the process. Romanchik completed the three-point play at the line and the Panthers hit 7 of their 11 free throws down the stretch to earn the win.
"Let's not sugarcoat anything, this win was absolutely necessary for us to get into the playoffs," said Crampsie. "It's not easy to win here and getting a road win like this does wonders for our kids confidence. We also finished a close game and that's the kind-of basketball we have to play heading into this pivotal stretch of the season."
Panther Valley big-man Nate Mathewson topped the Panthers in scoring with 15 points.
Conner Ennis finished with a season high 14 points and Dane Ciavarella added 10 for Thorpe.
King 0-0-0-0, Szczecina 1-0-2-3, McArdle 2-0-1-5, Ogozalek 1-3-4-6, Romanchik 1-4-6-6, Dalessio 0-0-0-0, Mathewson 5-5-9-15, Mitchell 3-0-4-6. TOTALS:15-12-25-46.
Joyner 0-0-2-0, Moore 0-0-0-0, Lynch 0-1-2-1, Ciavarella 5-0-0-10, Brown 4-0-0-8, Clark 2-2-2-6, Johnson 1-0-6-2, Ennis 5-0-0-14, Baombolia 0-0-0-0. TOTALS:16-3-12-41
Panther Valley 15 3 14 14 - 46
Jim Thorpe 16 6 6 13 - 41
Three-pointers: PV - Szczecina 1, McArdle 1, Ogozalek 1, Romanchik 1; JT - Ennis 4.