LANSDOWNE — Their regular season over, their willing or available players down to seven, their challenges still heavy, the Penn Wood girls basketball players recently faced two decisions.
The first was difficult, but they did agree to gather 10 players and enter the PIAA District 1 Class 6A tournament.
The second was not: They would play as hard as possible, once that postseason began.
With those commitments in place Saturday, the 16th-seeded Patriots recovered from a nine-point second-half deficit to eliminate No. 17 Perkiomen Valley, 63-60, in an entertaining struggle capped by three critical Lashanda Smith plays in the final 20 seconds.
With their record at 7-4, the Patriots will travel to 18-0 and top-rated Spring-Ford for a Round of 16 game Tuesday night at 7.
“I think we can go far,” said Smith, who scored 26 points. “Spring-Ford is a good shooting team and they are going to be disciplined. So we’ve got to play at our pace, not at their pace, and keep our heads.”
The Vikings (8-7) shot well early, with junior Jennifer Beattie scoring 14 of her 26 points in the first half, then after a brief plateau, stirred in the third. But that’s when Penn Wood coach Monique Boykins called a timeout and, upon gaining her players’ attention, knew what was next: A more aggressive defense, leading to a frenzied 10-0 run and a 45-44 lead.
When Emma Miley downed a mid-range jumper to give Perkiomen Valley a one-point lead after three, it made the fourth quarter madly contested.
“I regrouped them,” said Boykins, in her first game back after a three-game absence for a personal medical issue. “A lot of times, you see emotion. Emotion is what really, really comes out in them. And I had to reel them back in. You have to bring them back and get their energy re-balanced.
“Sometimes, you hear coaches yell out ‘Press.’ I don’t do that. I trained them for that press. But if I call it out, I won’t do it again. I go off their energy.”
In a game where both teams had turnover issues, the Patriots made the most of their opportunities to collect some open-floor points. Freshman Laila Johnson was used sparingly by Boykins, but her defense was vital to Penn Wood gaining late control.
A follow-up traffic layup from Raquel Curry staked the Pats to a 56-50 lead with 1:12 left, but a put-back by Ella Stein cut the Vikes’ deficit to four.
That’s when Smith went to work. First, the 5-3 junior penetrated and kicked to Ashley Cyrus, who buried a triple from the right side. After Naiya Daisey quickly responded with an old-fashioned three-pointer, Smith made both ends of a one-and-one with 15.6 seconds showing.
With Penn Wood electing not to foul, Daisey careened to the basket for a layup make it 61-57 with 9.6 seconds to play.
That’s when it all got a little too real for the Patriots.
“It did,” Smith said. “We had some turnovers. But we had to get ourselves together and make our free throws at the end.”
After the Daisey drive, the Pats turned over the inbound pass, and Daisey responded with a three-point jumper, giving her 13 points and cutting the difference to a point. But with 2.4 seconds left, Smith made two free throws for the 63-60 lead, and Perkiomen Valley was unable to unload a shot at the buzzer.
Cyrus scored 15 points and Xenia Gillis added 14 for Penn Wood. Ella Stein scored 10 points for Perkiomen Valley.
“We have four starters returning next year,” Perkiomen Valley coach John Russo said. “So that’s a positive. I have nothing but pride for how our girls competed. They played very well. This is the first of us. I think we are going to have a good, couple-year run coming up.”
As for Penn Wood, a season almost ended is turning toward becoming fascinating.
“I’m very proud of them,” Boykins said. “We have Spring-Ford next. That’s going to be a tough one. We’ve just got to keep stepping.”
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