Big second half propels Bears
NORTHAMPTON - Pleasant Valley’s girls lacrosse team has a championship mentality.
The Bears navigated an unbeaten regular season en route to their second straight Eastern Pennsylvania Conference tournament title.
They moved one step closer to checking off one of the biggest accomplishments in program history on Monday night.
Pleasant Valley advanced to the District 11 Class 3A final for the second year in a row with a 17-8 win over Freedom.
It was a victory that showcased the top-seeded Bears’ skill as much as it did their spirit.
“I mean, it’s huge, going to back-to-back district championships,” said Pleasant Valley’s Rylee Rath. “The first half, we struggled a little bit. But at halftime, we talked about it, got it all together and came out with a win.”
That first half saw the Bears (21-0) trailing 8-7 after four straight goals from No. 4 seed Freedom, the last of which came from Paige Jenkins with 52.3 seconds left before the intermission.
But Pleasant Valley responded, like it has all year, getting a pair of goals from Olivia Iandoli and Madison Fava to take the lead. Iandoli found the back of the net with 19.7 left in the first half before Fava put the Bears up 9-8 as time ran out.
That momentum carried into the second half, where Pleasant Valley outscored Freedom 8-0 and utilized the defense and ball control that have made the squad so hard to beat.
“But second half, offense really wanted to work on free play tonight, so they didn’t want us calling too many plays,” said Bears’ head coach Toni Bush. “They wanted to really just work on moving the ball amongst themselves and they did a pretty good job with it, second half, especially.”
It was an attack that saw six different players score goals.
Sophomore Devon Bush hit the back of the net seven times and recorded her 100th goal of the season.
Bush opened the scoring in the second half when a Freedom player was issued a card and forced to sit for two minutes, a period the Bears tallied three goals to push their lead to 12-8 within the first five minutes.
“We knew this was going to be a hard game,” said Devon Bush, who also added two assists. “We knew it was going to be challenging. But I think we just needed to get ourselves together, and it just took some time to get used to it.”
Rath scored three times – including the 100th goal of her season – and finished with two assists.
The freshman also got the team’s transition game going with steals near midfield, one which resulted in a goal by Emily Butler in the second half, and another which led to a score by Riley Green, who had two assists, in the first half.
“It’s huge. We know we’re a really fast team, so we know that we’re really strong on fastbreaks,” said Rath. “That’s where we score most of our goals. We push it as much as we can.”
Iandoli finished with four goals and dished out four assists in the win.
“That just shows how balanced our team is,” said Devon Bush. “There’s not just one player, or two players, or three players; it’s the whole team. Everyone contributes their own skills and their own part of the field. So it could never be a game of two players.”
Those contributions came at both ends of the field as Pleasant Valley’s defense limited the Patriots’ offensive opportunities, with goalie Abygail Borger making two saves.
“It’s a full team effort. We have players all over the field that we’re confident can take care of the ball,” said Toni Bush. “They worked so well together tonight, it’s just like they work in tandem. And their transition has gotten so much better over the season. They hustle. We’re able to take that ball and then push it back down and score on those big defensive plays.”
GOING FOR GOLD
... Pleasant Valley will seek its first district title against No. 3 seed Easton Wednesday in the finals. The Red Rovers knocked off No. 2 seed Emmaus 9-8 in the other semifinal Monday. The Bears - who fell to Emmaus in last year’s final - beat Easton 7-6 in the third game of the season on March 23. The 3A finals will take place at Lehigh University and are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. “We know that Easton is a very good team,” said Rath. “They’re just as fast as we are, so we know that we have to work real hard to just get ready and get prepared for it.”
... Jenkins and Karee Vandever each scored three times in the first half for Freedom (11-7). Vandever also had two assists.