NAZARETH – The Pleasant Valley girls' basketball team was completely shut down in its District 11 semifinal game with Liberty on Tuesday.
Still, the Lady Bears knew they had one more shot at clinching a PIAA berth and didn't let that outcome deter them from handling their business on Friday.
Pleasant Valley rebounded from its loss to Liberty in a big way as the Bears ran away from Whitehall in the District 11 Class AAAA consolation game, 51-32. The locals used their defensive pressure, along with a big third quarter, to earn their first state playoff berth since 2003.
"We had two good practices and we focused a lot on the things we needed to do," said Pleasant Valley head coach Nadia Gauronsky. "I think when we played Liberty we were shell shocked and young. We didn't really know where we were and how intense it would get. Liberty is a great team and kind of took us out of it.
"I think tonight we came with a lot of intensity and were more ready to play."
Both teams started off a little sluggish. Pleasant Valley was a mere 1-for-9 from the field, but managed to go 4-for-4 from the line to keep the score tied at the end of one. Whitehall didn't fare much better as it was 2-for-9 from the floor.
It was in the second that Pleasant Valley got things rolling in its favor. The Bears hit 6-of-9 shots in the second frame and built up an eight point lead heading into the break. Senior Amber Chieffo hit consecutive three-pointers that gave the Bears a 21-15 lead at the 1:58 mark. Fellow guard Arden Cisluycis later dropped in a three ball of her own that helped spark the Bears' offense.
"I think those three shots really got us going," said Gauronsky. "When Amber and Arden hit those three three-pointers it really built up our confidence moving forward."
Although Pleasant Valley went just 6-for-17 in the second half, it managed to rack up points from the free throw line. Perhaps a little uncharacteristically, the Bears connected on 14-of-25 attempts in the second half and scored enough to keep their distance.
It was the Bears' defense that led them to victory. The Bears' swarming 3-2 zone made every shot tough on Lehigh Valley first-team all-star Kayla Bet and her teammates. Whitehall shot a meager 1-for-15 from the floor in the third and ended the second half with a 16.6 shooting percentage (5-for-30). Bet had trouble finding the bottom of the cup all night, as she finished 3-for-19 from the field on her way to just 12 points. She didn't score her first point until 2:13 remained in the first and did not make more than one basket in any quarter.
"We were all over the place defensively," Gauronsky said. "We were running out to shooters and making shots difficult. Kayla is a great player and we wanted to contain her as best we could. I definitely think we did a good job of that."
Cisluycis and Chieffo led the Bears with 13 and 12 points respectively. Center Kelecia Harris managed just 10 points, but did her thing on the boards and pulled down 17 rebounds.
Pleasant Valley (18-9) will wait to see who it will face in the first round of the PIAA playoffs. After a rough first year, Gauronsky has now led the Bears to back-to-back Mountain Valley Conference championships and their first state berth in almost ten years. Now heading onto a bigger stage, she admitted that her team has grown up quite a bit in just three short days.
"Being young, we were winning there for a while and I don't think we knew how to handle that," admitted Gauronsky. "I think we needed to become a little more mature. I think we grew up with that loss (to Liberty). I really think it made us focus more and realize that we can't just go out and play three quarters of basketball. We have to play the entire game.
"I am excited for the girls because they have worked very hard. They deserve it. I knew that the girls were willing to work hard, so if they were willing to work then I was willing to work hard with them."
Kelly 0-2-2-2, Bet 3-4-10-12, Moussa 1-0-2-2, Umbenhauer 0-0-0-0, Basile 2-5-8-9, Lubenetski 2-0-0-5, Jordan 0-2-4-2, Wasley 0-0-0-0, Mellinger 0-0-0-0, Erie 0-0-0-0, Brosky 0-0-0-0, Sobchak 0-0-0-0, Conrad 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 8-13-26-32.
Dekmar 0-2-5-2, Chieffo 2-6-9-12, Harris 5-0-3-10, Cisluycis 3-5-6-13, Meckes 2-4-7-8, Dorney 0-2-2-2, Craig 1-0-0-2, Miller 0-2-4-2. TOTALS: 13-21-36-51.
Whitehall 6 10 4 12 - 32
Pleasant Vy 6 18 13 14 - 51
Three-Pointers: Whitehall – Bet 2, Lubenetski 1; Pleasant Valley – Chieffo 2, Cisluycis 2.