Early in the season when Panther Valley lost starting center Brock Mitchell to a season ending injury, head coach Pat Crampsie had the enviable task of pulling his troops together and making them believe their season wasn't over despite losing a player who could carry them on their back.
It took a while, but the Panthers have shown they are in the midst of answering the challenge with the latest evidence coming Saturday in a 47-43 non-league win over Palmerton at the PV gym.
The Panthers (7-7, 2-3)) reached .500 overall with the win, their fourth in a row and fifth in their last six outings.
PV overcame a one-point halftime deficit to outscore the Bombers 19-13 in the third quarter and then holding them off down the stretch.
The Bombers battled back to pull within one twice down the stretch after the Panthers lost Nate Mathewson to his fifth foul with 3:16 left in the contest. Things evened up when Jourdan Reinhart, Palmerton's high scorer with 17 points, also fouled out with 1:41 left.
"Nate (Mathewson) and Zach Stanko have been big for us all year and the last two weeks we've had other guys step up," Crampsie said. "Against Lehighton it was Thad Ogozalek. This week, Nick (McArdle) and Joe Revell have stepped up their game. We wouldn't have been able to go on this run if the other guys wouldn't have stepped up the way they've been."
With 46 seconds left, Nick McArdle made a pair of free throws to give the Panthers a 46-43 lead and then Stanko made one of two with 24.8 seconds remaining and that was all they needed.
"Once we took the lead the kids did a real good job of protecting it, playing smart and playing tough," said Crampsie. "We've been talking about it the last couple of games now, we just have to make sure we fight through everything.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game. Palmerton is a good team in the same situation as us where if they want to get into districts they need to get every win they can get."
The Panthers jumped out to a 5-0 lead before the Bombers (6-7, 3-4) found the range and tied things up at 12-12 after one. McArdle had seven of PV's points in the opening eight minutes, while Reinhart had six for the Bombers.
Tyler Svetik's six points helped the Bombers open up a three-point lead twice in the second quarter, but McArdle added five more and Stanko four to keep the Panthers within 22-21 at the half.
With the score tied at 29-29 in the third quarter, the Panthers ran off nine straight behind Stanko and Mathewson to take a 38-29 lead, but the Bombers managed to cut it to 40-35 entering the final eight minutes. Revell hit a pair of three's early on and scored all eight of his points for PV right after intermission. Ben Andrews had five of his eight points during that stretch for the Bombers.
"They had that little spurt where they got up nine and we didn't have that," said Palmerton interim head coach Mark Maholick afterwards. "We knew coming in it was going to be a tough game, but we did some of the things we wanted to. We wanted to attack, we got people in foul trouble (Stanko and Mathewson) that we wanted to get in trouble.
"Give them credit, they played with poise, they played well and they made their free throws late and did what they had to do to win. When we got the ball inside and it wasn't Jourdan, they did a good job collapsing and they smothered us without hacking so we didn't get to the foul line as much as we would have liked."
The Bombers pulled out the JV game by a 33-30 score as Mike Horvath finished with 14 points, including seven-for-seven from the line in the fourth quarter. Stephen Romanchik had 12 for the Panthers.
Andrews 3-0-0-8, Svetik 4-0-0-8, Snyder 2-0-0-5, Leaver 0-0-0-0, Ruch 0-0-0-0, Saylor 0-0-0-0, Geist 2-1-2-5, Reinhart 8-1-2-17. TOTALS: 19-2-4-43.
Hadesty 00-0-0, Dunn 0-0-0-0, Stanko 6-1-5-14, McArdle 4-5-8-16, Ogozalek 1-0-0-3, Revell 3-0-0-8, Kerschner 0-0-1-0, Mathewson 2-2-3-6. TOTALS: 16-8-17-47.
Palmerton 12 10 13 8 - 43
Panther Vy. 12 9 19 7 - 47
Three-Pointers: Palmerton - Andrews 2, Snyder 1; Panther Valley - McArdle 3, Revell 2, Stanko 1, Ogozalek 1.