Pine Grove strikes gold
Published: February 21, 2013
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POTTSVILLE - Chris George preached confidence.
As shots by Lauren Thompson, Shannon Zimmerman, Sam Bertasavage and Steffi Sampson continued to fall, Pine Grove's lead continued to grow.
And, as the Cardinals' lead grew, so did their confidence.
Confidence that turned into points. Confidence that turned into defense. Confidence that turned into a championship.
Pine Grove built a double-figure lead in the second quarter and weathered Tri-Valley's late surge to secure the 10th Schuylkill League championship in program history with a 52-45 victory February 15 at Martz Hall.
Thompson, Zimmerman and point guard Becky Evans each finished in double figures for the Cardinals (21-3), who won their first title since 2003.
"We've spent the last 3-4 days, and probably even before that, getting these girls to believe they deserved the chance to win this title if we played well," George said.
"Building them up. Giving them confidence.
"We told them 'You don't have to be perfect to beat this team. Just play well. Hit some shots, do the little things and you're going to win.' We've really been spending a lot of time trying to give them that confidence that when they come out on the floor, they're not surprised when they hit a couple shots. That being said, they're also confident kids."
Pine Grove wasn't perfect.
The Cardinals also couldn't have been much better.
Pine Grove outrebounded Tri-Valley (21-3) by a 40-23 margin despite a height disadvantage. The Cardinals also made 21-of-47 (44.7 percent) and held the Dawgs to a season-low 15 field goals, including just one in the second quarter, and 32.6 percent shooting.
"They did a really good job, especially in the second quarter," Tri-Valley coach Bob Felty Jr. said. "It was a similar zone to what we saw all year. They forced us out of our execution and did an excellent job. We just didn't execute at all."
Pine Grove seized control with a 20-3 run that started when Zimmerman hit back-to-back jumpers at the foul line over the final 1:49 of the first quarter.
"After I hit the first one, it gave me more drive to keep going," Zimmerman said. "Their main focus is our outside shooters like Lauren and Becky, and they always have great games. Sometimes it's time for me and Steffi to step up."
Evans started the second with a 3-pointer, and Bertasavage, Thompson, Zimmerman and Sampson all scored during the run to help the Cards finish the half with a 29-17 edge.
"It gave us a lot of confidence," Thompson said. "We knew we could do it. We just knew we couldn't let down. We knew they're a great team and they could easily come back like we had gotten ahead."
Added Zimmerman: "We felt pretty comfortable going into the second half, but we knew that they weren't going to let us have it. We had to keep playing hard."
Zimmerman and Thompson each finished the first half with 10 points. Thompson ended the night with a team-high 15, while Zimmerman pitched in 12.
"We have spent a lot of time the last week or so with Shannon, with Steffi and Lauren getting a lot of extra shots," George said. "They knew what the deal was. They knew they were going to have to come back to the ball. They were going to come after Becky again. They were going to get good looks."
Pine Grove's lead remained between seven and 13 points until the Dawgs used a 7-2 spurt midway through the fourth quarter.
Kylie Spickler ignited the rally with a 3-pointer, then Juli Weber went coast-to-coast for a layup. After Bertasavage made a layup for the Cardinals, Tara Nahodil put back a miss to pull Tri-Valley within 46-41.
Pine Grove responded with back-to-back buckets by Sampson, who finished with six points and nine rebounds.
The Dawgs cut it back to five on back-to-back steals by Weber, who finished with a game-high 17 points. Evans finished it off with two free throws with 39.8 seconds left.
"They're really disappointed right now," Felty said. "But I know this group well enough that this loss won't be an issue the rest of the way."
The shrieks in the hallway and coming from the locker room were plenty to understand the excitement shared by the Pine Grove players.
"It feels absolutely amazing, especially coming in as more of an underdog," Zimmerman said. "... It's just amazing."
- In other girls' basketball games:
U. Dauphin 41
MIFFLINTOWN - McKenzie Miller scored eight of her 14 points in the fourth quarter, but the Trojans' rally fell short in a Tri-Valley League game.
Upper Dauphin took a 39-38 lead late in the game, but Juniata answered and held on.
Victoria Varner led Juniata with a game-high 19 points.
Juniata jumped out to a 15-5 lead, but the Trojans went on a 10-1 run in the second quarter to trail 16-15 at half-time.