GRATERFORD >> After winning a district title in 2016, Perkiomen Valley missed out on last year’s PIAA Class 6A state tournament. This season’s senior-laden squad was determined to make their mark on the program.
So the subdued reaction on the Vikings’ sideline was somewhat of a surprise at the end of Wednesday’s 60-53 win over Downingtown East in the District 1 Class 6A playback round — a victory that sealed PV’s spot in the 6A state playoffs, slated to begin next Friday.
Maybe they felt their work wasn’t done yet. Or maybe they were just too exhausted from the frantic second-half comeback that saw the Vikings rebound from a 13-point deficit to put the Cougars away.
Megan Jonassen led PV with 27 points, consistently driving the lane and challenging Downingtown East’s 6-foot-5 sophomore center Bella Smuda.
Smuda won her share of the battles with 17 points and five blocks on the night, but it was Jonassen who would give PV its first lead at 45-43 with 3:37 remaining — one they wouldn’t relinquish.
“Honestly, I’d rather go against someone her height who’s taller than me,” said Jonassen. “It brings out the best in me and makes me play tougher and more aggressively.”
From a district perspective, the Vikings move into a Friday night contest with Upper Dublin to determine District 1’s ninth seed in states, while Downingtown East faces a win-or-go home contest with Central Bucks East.
For the first three-and-a-half quarters, it looked like Downingtown East’s night. But after the Cougars started the second half on a 6-0 run, PV responded with 11 straight. The 11-0 run included Jonassen’s 1,500th career point.
“We didn’t stop the game,” said PV coach John Strawoet. “We didn’t want to slow her down.”
It would’ve made no sense to cool off the Fordham-bound senior, who accounted for the first eight points of that run before Taylor Hamm, who added 18 on the evening, capped it with a 3. By the end of the third, Perk Valley has chopped the Cougars’ lead to a single basket.
Smuda got three easy baskets to start the fourth, widening the margin back to six before PV completed the comeback on sophomore Gabby Marinacci’s three-pointer with four minutes to play. For Marinacci, making her first start since early in the season, it was her first shot of the evening at the perfect time.
“I never even thought about (the score or situation),” admitted Marinacci. “I just took the shot.”
Down the stretch, PV’s foul shooting was a big difference, knocking down 21-of-27 on the evening compared to the Cougars’ 10-for-19 mark from the charity stripe. The duo of Jonassen and Hamm began to assert their will, causing Downingtown East to lose Erin Phelan (15 points) to fouls in the final minutes.
“That was a great high school basketball game,” said Tom Schurtz, head coach of Downingtown East. “Two strong, experienced teams battled for four quarters. Can’t ask for more than that.
“I couldn’t be more disappointed in the outcome, but couldn’t be prouder of the effort. Now we just need to find a way into states.”
The Vikings struggled at the outset with East’s combination of backcourt quickness and Smuda. Phelan caught fire early, putting up six early points for the Cougars while Smuda helped to neutralize PV’s usual advantage on the boards with seniors Jonassen and Hamm.
The Cougars’ pressure forced a hurried PV offense into 14 turnovers before halftime. Offensively, East’s ball movement and the threat of Olivia Williams’ outside shooting was enough for the team to hold possession for long stretches, passing up the proverbial good shot for a great shot.
A Williams three-pointer opened the scoring in each of the first two quarters, with Downingtown East running out to an early 11-2 lead by the three-minute mark of the first quarter. From there, the game evened out some for the remainder of the half, with Jonassen’s inside tenacity yielding results for the Vikings.
On the other side, it was only when PV coach Strawoet started switching up his defense between man-to-man and a 2-3 zone that the Cougars’ offense slowed some, allowing the Vikings to creep within seven by the break.
From there the game would belong to the Vikings, whose victory sends Jonassen and her class of outgoing seniors back to states for a second time.
“To go back to states again is a great accomplishment,” Jonassen said. “But the season isn’t over — now we get to show everyone that we’re a good team.”