EAST STROUDSBURG - Friday night, the Lady Bears from Pleasant Valley clawed their way to the top of the mountain.
The Mountain Valley Conference that is.
Trailing by seven at the break, Pleasant Valley came out fast in the third quarter and managed to take the lead heading into the fourth. Pocono Mountain West responded and was able to force overtime following a game-trying three-pointer with a minute go. Fortunately, the Bears took an early lead in overtime and made their free throws down the stretch en route to capturing the program's first MVC championship since 2005.
"It feels pretty good," said Pleasant Valley head coach Nadia Gauronsky. "Still, I owe a lot of the credit to the kids. It's not me. It is them. They are the ones who worked hard all year so they deserve most of the credit."
The Bears (18-6) opened the night as if they had been waiting for this moment for five years (last appearance was in 2006), especially senior Kasey Meckes. Meckes started off with a three-point-play and proceeded to score the first eight points of the game.
However, the first quarter was a game of runs. Pleasant Valley opened with an 8-0 run only to watch Pocono Mountain (14-10) answer with a 10-0 run of its own. Katie Schickling, Steph Davis and Ramona Benitez hit consecutive triples for the Panthers, with Benitez giving her team a one-point lead.
A Kelecia Harris put-back ended the Panther run. Fellow big-man Dalian Salmon also scored to give the Bears a 12-10 lead. But again, Pocono Mountain put together a string of five straight points. Schickling banked a second three-pointer as the buzzer sounded to give her team a 15-12 lead at the end of one.
The Panthers maintained their lead in the second quarter. They out-scored the Bears 10-6 in the frame and never let their lead dip below five points.
Despite being down by seven at halftime, Gauronsky was content with where her team stood after 16 minutes of play.
"Kelecia was in foul trouble and we were only down seven," said Gauronsky. "We played without her for the majority of the first half and I thought that was a really good sign.
"Heading into the second half, we needed to get the ball inside and work our game and utilize her while she was in. We did that and it worked in our favor."
The plan worked to perfection, as Harris scored nine points in the quarter to spark the Bears comeback. A Meckes lay-up at the five-minute-mark capped a 7-0 run and tied the game at 25.
The only things that had changed were Pleasant Valley's defensive pressure in its 2-2-1 press and its ability to finish around the rim. The Bears tallied 17 in the quarter while holding the Panthers to just seven. After three it was 35-32 PV.
"My coaches told me to not think about anything," said Harris, who ended the night with 17 points. "They wanted me to play like it was my last time on the court. I didn't play in the second quarter, so I had all of this energy bottled up. In the third quarter I just realized that this is my last time playing and tried to make the most of it."
Pleasant Valley went to its time-consuming offense with about two minutes to go in regulation and it seemed to backfire a little bit. The Bears turned it over on one possession (leading to Panther free throws) and then made another mistake late allowed the game-trying three-pointer. Both teams missed on attempts to win the game, with the Panthers getting the last shot.
The Bears jumped out to quick four-point lead in OT and never looked back. Megan Hardy connected on both of her free throw attempts, while Meckes went 5-of-8 in the final minutes to seal the victory. She finished with a game-high 20 points.
Meckes 5-9-13-20, Hardy 2-2-2-6, Harris 7-3-6-17, Salmon 3-0-1-6, Sisco 0-0-0-0, Chieffo 1-0-1-2, Kregeloh 0-1-2-1, McGill 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 18-15-25-52.
POCONO MOUNTAIN WEST
Walters 1-0-1-2, Schickling 3-0-0-9, Benitez 4-2-5-11, Davis 6-3-4-18, Blake 1-0-0-3, Roberts 0-0-0-0, Wilson 2-0-1-4. TOTALS: 17-5-11-47.
Pleasant Vy 12 6 17 6 11 - 52
PM West 15 10 7 9 6 - 47
Three-Pointers: PV - Meckes; PM - Schickling 3, Davis 3, Benitez 1, Blake 1.