Williams Valley captures crown


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COAL TOWNSHIP - Williams Valley coach Denny Kasper turned to his bench and pumped his fist.

As the final seconds ticked off the clock and the buzzer sounded, the Vikings players embraced each other and got a standing ovation from their fans.

Williams Valley has won its share of sports championships this season.

Now, the Vikings get the opportunity to play for another.

Dennis Jansen poured in a game-high 24 points and Colin Harrison added 14 to lead Williams Valley to a 57-48 victory over Lourdes to clinch the Schuylkill League Division II boys' basketball championship Saturday, Feb. 9 at a packed Lee E. Korbich Memorial Gym.

With the victory, the Vikings (17-5, 10-3 D-II) earned a spot in the league playoffs at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13 at Martz Hall against Division I champ Pottsville (18-4, 12-0 D-I). The other semifinal has Division III champ Mahanoy Area (17-4, 12-1 D-III) facing Division I wild-card Blue Mountain (18-4, 10-2 D-I) at 6 p.m. (Details of those games were unavailable prior to print production.)

It will be the Vikings' first appearance in the league playoffs since 2010, when they lost to the Crimson Tide 54-35 in the semifinals.

It will also be a chance for Williams Valley to add to its Schuylkill League championship in boys' soccer, Tri-Valley League title in football and District 11 Class A crowns in both sports.

"Soccer and football have been through it and basketball wanted to get through it, too," Jansen said. "We really haven't won any big games in our careers (in basketball). This is a big one."

Added Harrison: "That was an awesome win."

Owen Daniel grabbed 10 rebounds for Williams Valley, while Harrison had seven and Jansen five. Stephen Sedesse also had five assists.

The Vikings built a 12-point lead early in the second quarter, but Lourdes (16-5, 9-4 D-II) used full-court pressure to slowly battle back and tie the game at 36 late in the third quarter.

But the shots stopped dropping for the Red Raiders and Williams Valley started to capitalize in transition as the Vikings went on a 10-0 run to go back up 46-36 early in the fourth quarter. Lourdes, last year's Division II champ, got to within eight late in the game but got no closer.

Williams Valley won despite turning the ball over 22 times.

The seven main players Kasper uses on the boys' basketball team where a part of those championship teams in the fall.

Daniel, Sedesse, Brendan Miller and Nick Rodichok won Tri-Valley League and District 11 Class A championships in football, while Harrison, Jansen and Ben Rautzahn earned Schuylkill League and D-11 Class A boys' soccer titles.

Both teams finished the regular season undefeated.

"We've been though this playoff atmosphere before," Harrison said. "I think we responded pretty well with this win."

Anthony Pennypacker had 12 points and five rebounds for Lourdes, which beat Minersville in overtime in the final game of the regular season a year ago to get into the league playoffs. Zack Oquendo added 10 points and eight rebounds for the Red Raiders, and Matt Savitski netted 10 points.

Lourdes shot 6-for-27 (22 percent) in the second half and 16-for-51 (31 percent) in the game.

"I thought our effort was there," Lourdes coach Pete Long said. "We had some adjustments as halftime, which I thought worked. We got good possessions and we got some good looks. But they just didn't fall and they got some transition out of that because we got so flat. That was the difference and then it just snowballed."

Jansen scored 17 of his points in the first half, including three 3-pointers, as Williams Valley led 21-9 early in the second quarter.

After the Red Raiders got back in the game and tied it at 36, the Vikings made their move in a frantic ending to the third quarter with Sedesse and Miller on the bench with four fouls apiece.

Rautzahn scored on a drive from the wing, then hit 1-of-2 from the foul line. After Michael Menapace missed a short jumper in the lane, Rautzahn grabbed the rebound and threw a nearly full-court pass to Jansen, who laid the ball in with a second left.

"We all played together since seventh- and eighth-grade basketball," Harrison said. "We know how to handle pressure. We are all a tight-knit group. We just responded very well."

Williams Valley scored the first five points of the fourth and put the game away by hitting 3-of-6 from the floor in the quarter and 10-of-12 from the foul line.

Kasper credited his defense in helping pull the game out, as well as the start that allowed the Vikings to stay in a 3-2 zone the entire game.

The experience helped, too.

"That was the best defense we played all year," he said. "(The zone) was effective so we stayed in it and the kids responded to it. Our foul shooting was good at critical times and the end of the third quarter was critical.

"Down the stretch, the kids have been in big games before as football players and soccer players and you could tell. There was no panic. They kept playing defense and kept playing smart. We had some costly turnovers, but it was a wild game and a wild crowd. There was a lot of emotion but I felt our kids handled themselves very well."

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