Lady Panthers end skid
Bob Ford/TIMES NEWS Panther Valley's Abbey Whildin drives past Meghan Boran of Pottsville during Friday's Schuylkill League Division 1 game.
It was just a matter of time.
Despite being saddled with a 25-game Schuylkill League losing streak, conventional wisdom said the Panther Valley girls would eventually get that coveted win.
During the first half of the league schedule the Lady Panthers had numerous close calls, one of them being a one-point loss to Pottsville.
Last night, Josh Wank's club faced the Crimson Tide again and this time they finally got the monkey off their back by earning a hard-fought 46-44 victory.
"We're finally off the schneid," said Wank. "We've been close in so many league games during the first round of games.
"We didn't even talk about the losing streak. When you start dwelling on streaks, especially losing ones, that eats at you. Tonight we came through in the end."
Panther Valley (9-8; 1-7) came through in many facets of the game.
They were strong on the offensive boards. They battled for loose balls. They played tough defense. And they hit enough free throws down the stretch to record the win.
"We were a little overmatched tonight inside, but Panther Valley played with a lot of energy and they hustled all over the court," said Pottsville mentor Rick Wojciechowsky. "The girls that were on the court for them tonight worked well together as a group.
"We were a little undermanned tonight and we weren't that deep on the bench. That wasn't the reason we lost though. Panther Valley was a little better and they just won game."
The two clubs battled tooth-and-nail the whole evening as there were seven ties during the game's first two and a half quarters.
Knotted 24-24, the Panthers used a free throw and inside bucket from Sam Zlock and a driving basket and three-pointer from Abbey Whildin to close the third frame with an 8-2 spurt.
Panther Valley managed to maintain the lead throughout the final period by either driving to the basket, getting putbacks, or converting foul shots.
Tray Rice, who finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds, converted off the offensive glass midway through the quarter to keep PV in front, 38-32, while a Whildin bucket gave the host team a seven-point advantage with under three minutes to play.
"The girls have learned how to win," said Wank. "They've been in close games all year and now it's starting to pay dividends.
"We told them this game's outcome was not going to be decided by athleticism. It's going to be decided by how much they want it. It's not going to be based on talent. It's going to be based on loose balls and rebounds, how hard you play defense and how hard you make the other team work."
Pottsville (5-11; 1-7) managed to hang around thanks to some clutch drives by Julio Bolino down the stretch and free throws from Makenna Rushannon, but the Panthers were able to beat the Tide's pressure defense in the closing minutes. That forced the visitors to foul and put Wank's club on the line, where they made 4-of-8 in the final parts of the game to clinch the victory.
"We've done a varity of things at practice," said Wank. "We've been going 6-on-5 and even 7-on-5 in certain drills with pressure. Last year that was our weak spot, breaking pressure. Now ... we're more poised with the ball. And we're making better decisions late in games."
Whildin also finished with 13 points while Zlock had eight and six caroms. Madison Blasko had five points and six boards while Brittany Cunfer added six points and seven rebounds.
"It was a total team effort," said Wank. "I told them afterwards that every person that played in that game played an intricate role at some point."
In the JV game, Pottsville gained a 31-20 win.
Burke 5-0-0-11, Moser 1-0-0-2, Ryan 3-1-3-7, Boran 1-0-0-2, Rushannon 1-3-6-6, Stevens 0-0-0-0, Bolino 3-1-2-7, Sweat 2-5-10-9. TOTALS: 16-10-21-44.
Whildin 4-3-7-13, Blasko 2-1-3-5, Thomas 0-1-4-1, Rice 6-1-4-13, Markovich 0-0-0-0, Cunfer 2-2-2-6, Zlock 3-2-4-8. TOTALS: 17-10-24-46.
Pottsville 12 6 8 18 - 44
Panther Vy. 9 7 16 14 - 46
Three-pointers: Pottsville - Burke 1, Rushannon 1; Panther Vy. - Whildin 2.