It wasn't pretty or easy, and there was even a time when it seemed like it wouldn't happen, but in the end the Pleasant Valley boys' basketball team punched its ticket to the District 11 playoffs Tuesday night.
The Bears let a big halftime lead slip away in the third and fourth quarters, but rebounded down the stretch to pull out a 48-44 win over visiting Lehighton in Mountain Valley Conference action. This is the third straight season that Pleasant Valley has qualified for the district playoffs.
"It is nice to get in," said Pleasant Valley head coach Ken Piontkowski. "We didn't play our best game, but we did not practice for the last four days. We practiced Saturday, but some of our guys missed it with SATs. Normally I wouldn't care and I would just say we will get at it Monday, but that didn't happen either.
"I am pretty sure this locks us into the MVC tournament as well. If Lehighton loses to Pocono Mountain West, then they will have six conference losses and they won't be able to pass us regardless of what we do."
After a tightly contested first quarter that saw four lead changes, Pleasant Valley stepped up its defensive pressure and used it to open up a sizeable lead in the second. Devon Howard's breakaway dunk three minutes in forced Lehighton into a timeout and made the score 18-8.
The lead was 20-8 at the 4:03 mark when Lehighton finally scored its first bucket in over six minutes. Tyler Crum's lay-up woke the Indians' offense up and started his team on the comeback trail. Over the next quarter and a half, Lehighton would claw its way back and managed to take the lead a minute into the fourth quarter on a James Farano jumper. The Indians led by as many as three (37-34) thanks to a three-point play by Crum, but let their lead slip away and eventually lost the game.
"We didn't shoot the ball well in the first half," said Lehighton head coach Rich Oertner. "Then when we got the lead, we made two mistakes when we were trying to do something else. We were trying to hold the ball just to see how Pleasant Valley would react, and instead of holding the ball both times drove to the basket and turned the ball over.
"We didn't give up and we played hard. Down the stretch we had a wide open three-pointer to put us up with about 30 seconds to go. It was right on the money, it was just long. If that goes in everything changes, but we were in the game and I can't really complain about anything."
With the score tied at 39 late in the fourth, Marquis Brown scored six straight points to help the Bears to a 45-41 lead. A Dan Hrbek three-point play in the waning seconds then sealed the deal.
"I switched spots toward the end," said Brown, who finished with 15 points and eight rebounds. "Instead of going block to block, we mixed it up a little bit and I went up to the high post. I was able to attack and get to the line and it worked out well."
While the loss may have ended Lehighton's (9-8, 4-5) hopes of getting into the MVC playoffs, it is still alive in the district hunt. The Indians need to win two of their four remaining games against Tamaqua, Eastburg South, Pocono Mountain West and Notre Dame of East Stroudsburg.
"As long as we keep playing hard, I am not going to complain," said Oertner. "We are in every game and I hope we are learning. We are learning from the close games and I think it will play off in the end."
Although Piontkowski had to watch his team blow a decent-sized lead, he was happy to see them battle back in the final minutes to win the game. He tried to look on the brighter side of things afterward.
"It's frustrating (blowing the lead), but it's good I guess," said Piontkowski. "We made some plays. Devon made a couple of plays and Brown hit some foul shots and had some timely buckets. He had a tip-in at the end that was big."
Crum 4-3-4-12, Rossino 4-3-3-11, Knappenberger 2-0-0-5, Farano 3-1-2-8, Nalesnik 0-2-2-2, Mele 3-0-3-6, Thompson 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 16-9-14-44.
Howard 4-0-0-9, Sharpe 2-1-2-6, Jones 1-0-0-2, Hrbek 3-3-5-10, Brown 5-5-7-15, Pazienza 2-0-0-4, Deegan 0-0-2-0, Robinson 1-0-0-2, Neubert 0-0-0-0, Skutnik 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 18-9-16-48.
Lehighton 8 12 10 14 - 44
Pleasant Vy 12 13 6 17 - 48
Three-pointers: L - Crum 1, Knappenberger 1, Farano 1; PV - Howard 1, Sharpe 1, Hrbek 1.