POCONO SUMMIT - As his team's 14-point halftime lead shrank all the way to zero, Pleasant Valley head coach Ken Piontkowski couldn't help but think about last year.
In the 2012 Mountain Valley Conference semifinals against Stroudsburg, the Bears bounced back from a double digit deficit at halftime and went on to win the game in overtime.
Fortunately for Pleasant Valley, Devon Howard didn't allow the roles to be reversed Wednesday night.
Howard sank two free throws with 30 seconds left to break the tie and give Pleasant Valley a 47-45 victory over Stroudsburg in the MVC semis. Howard missed the back-end of a one-and-one late in Saturday's one-point loss to the Mounties. He made up for it four days later.
"It felt good to make those," said Howard, who finished with a team-high 12 points. "It was my job to knock those two down. Confidence is the only thing I need in a situation like that."
Piontkowski expected a close game, but not for it to get close in the fashion that it did.
"I was really proud early," said Piontkowski. "I thought we played well and our defense was intense. I think if in the first half we made some free throws and some fast break layups we would have had an even bigger working margin.
"But it was in the back of my head that last year the shoe was on the other foot. We were able to come back and I knew (Stroudsburg) wasn't done. Give them credit for fighting back. (Jacob) Battle did a heck of a job shooting them back in the game and (David) Clowney was in the middle of that mix as well."
The score was even at four early before Pleasant Valley went on an 11-0 run to end the first quarter. Marquis Brown had six of his nine points in the opening frame.
The Bears pushed their lead to 24-10 in the second and the margin stayed at 14 until the break.
After that all of the momentum swung toward Stroudsburg in the form of Jacob Battle. Battle single-handedly brought the Mounties back by scoring 16 of his game-high 26 points in the second half. He, along with some Bear turnovers, allowed Stroudsburg to close it to eight by the end of the third.
Midway through the fourth Donovan Clay hit two free throws it cut the gap to five. Battle hit a three-pointer a few minutes later to get it to two. On the next possession, he converted on a floater to tie the game with 50 ticks left.
Meanwhile, Pleasant Valley wasn't doing itself any favors by missing an inordinate amount of free throws. Brown went 0-for-8 in the fourth alone while the team went a collective 6-for-20. Still, Howard made the biggest two of them all.
"Those were two big ones," said Piontkowski. "I mean I can't put any positive spin on the free throw shooting. That was horrendous.
"Sometimes those things snow ball. Marquis isn't that bad of a free throw shooter. He is not an 80 percent shooter but he has been a clutch guy for us in the past. He missed a couple and started to get frustrated and I think it went from bad to worse, but luckily Devon was able to get up there and make a couple."
Although Howard did convert, the Mounties still had plenty of time left. Battle got free for a three-pointer in the final seconds but came up short. He got his own rebound but again missed on an awkward floater.
Pleasant Valley will play top-seeded Pocono Mountain West in a rematch of last year's title game on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Pocono Mountain East. Piontkowski knows it will be a tough order, but is pleased with his program's progression nonetheless.
"I'm proud of the program," said Piontkowski. "For the guys who played for me and coach with me now - I kind of look at it that way. I want everybody to be proud of Pleasant Valley basketball. This particular group, starting with Brown as a freshman, started to push us back to where we want to be.
"Last year the game got away from us early. This year we want to make sure we are ready to come out and play and try to give them all they can handle."
Brown 4-1-11-9, Jones 0-2-4-2, Howard 4-3-6-12, Sharpe 3-0-0-7, Hrbek 3-2-4-9, Hosier 1-2-4-4, Deegan 2-0-0-4, Neubert 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 17-10-29-47.
1-2-3-4, Cayo 2-0-2-5, Brandt 0-0-2-0, Clowney 3-3-4-9, Battle 9-4-8-26, Fenn 0-0-0-0, Bragg 0-0-0-0, Cuevas 0-0-0-0, Lopez 0-1-2-1. TOTALS: 15-10-21-45.
Pleasant Vy 15 14 10 8 - 47
Stroudsburg 4 11 16 14 - 45
Three-pointers: PV - Howard 1, Sharpe 1, Hrbek 1; S - Battle 4, Cayo 1.