The Panther Valley girls basketball team earned a thrilling 41-38 Schuylkill League win over Blue Mountain on Thursday night a victory 36 years and 31 games in the making.
The last time Panther Valley (10-8) defeated Blue Mountain was December 23, 1976. The Lady Panthers had lost 31 straight games to the Eagles, including a 60-41 defeat earlier this year.
Panther Valley started strong and took a 26 -18 lead into halftime, largely on the strength of its stifling defense. Panther Valley's leading scorer, Abbey Whildin, had 13 of her game-high 19 points in the first half.
The Lady Panthers appeared to have the game well-in-hand heading into the second half, but Blue Mountain came out of the break and put Panther Valley on its heels with a 7-0 run to make it a 26-25 game. Panther Valley coach Josh Wank called a timeout in an attempt to break Blue Mountain's momentum and give his team a chance to regroup.
Panther Valley responded by outscoring Blue Mountain 7-4 to end the third quarter and increase its advantage to 33-29 heading into the fourth and final frame.
The game was nip-and-tuck for much of the fourth quarter with Panther Valley holding a slight advantage until Blue Mountain's Olivia Shpakovsky hit a shot to give the Eagles a 38-37 lead, its first of the game. Shpakovsky had a team-high 12 points for Blue Mountain (6-11) in the contest.
Panther Valley got the ball back with a final chance to win the game and end the drought against its Schuylkill League rival. Wank called a timeout with :40 left in the game in an attempt to draw up one final play for a shot at the win.
"Early on in the game, we noticed that the backside was open on the out of bounds sets," Wank said. "So I knew that, if the opportunity presented itself, I was going to draw something up backside just to see if they would rotate or help off it."
Wank called the play and got the look he wanted, allowing senior Sam Zlock to work in the post and hit a shot to give Panther Valley a 39-38 lead, which proved to be the difference. Whildin hit two free throws to ice the game with 5.6 left.
Wank gave credit to his lone senior starter for making the game-winning shot.
"To Sam's credit, she made a tough shot, she made a tough, tough shot," Wank said. "She did a great job getting space and finishing strong.
Zlock finished the game with eight points.
Wank thought his team showed how much they have grown in coming back late in the game to earn the win.
"This team showed a lot of fight and a lot of resolve, they don't quit and they stick together," Wank said. "They're a very close group and it showed out there.
"When they (Blue Mountain) went on a 7-0 run, they all picked each other up out there. Even in a tight game, it looked like they were having fun."
With Panther Valley now needing just one more win to punch its ticket to the District 11 playoffs, Wank is proud of the growth he has seen from his young team over the course of this season.
"I can't say enough about our kids," Wank said. "I'm ecstatic and just proud to be their coach right now."
Foster 3-2-7-8, Woleschok 1-2-4-4, Shpakovsky 6-0-4-12, Ebling 1-0-0-2, Moyer 2-2-8-6, Fanelli 1-0-1-2, Bowen 2-0-0-4. TOTALS: 16-24-6-38.
Whildin 6-5-6-19, Blasko 2-0-0-5, Vance 1-0-0-2, Jacobs 0-0-0-0, Smith 0-0-0-0, Markovich 1-0-0-3, Mikovich 1-2-2-4, Zlock 3-2-2-8. TOTALS: 14-9-10-41.
Blue Mountain 9 9 11 9 - 38
Panther Valley 11 15 7 8 - 41
Three-pointers: Panther Valley - Whildin 2, Blasko 1, Markovich 1.