Wallenpaupack Area's girls basketball team is off to states after eliminating Valley West
A season's worth of preparation, practice, and play all culminated in four minutes worth of overtime Friday night.
Wallenpaupack Area clashed with Wyoming Valley West in a heated battle for the District 2 Class AAAA girls basketball championship at Lackawanna College.
The Lady Buck' standing seeded them as the home team, and while they donned white jerseys, plenty of Paupack purple filled the stands to truly give them an "at home" feel.
Valley West got on the boards fast and in a big way.
Back-to-back buckets from Megan Kane and a follow-up deuce from Cassie Smicherko put the Lady Spartans in the lead before Alexix Roman netted a 2-pointer for Paupack and made good on two free tosses as well.
Tara Judge and Olivia Hoffman fired back for West, each nailing a two before Roman stirred again and struck again from inside. Another field goal from Smicherko brought the Spartans to 12 points, but things would change quickly as Wallenpaupack battled back.
Kaelyn Ragonese hit for two and a foul let Roman go 1-for-2 from the line. She followed it with another inside shot bringing the Lady Bucks to within one point with seconds left in the period.
Then, at the buzzer, Raeann Ehrhardt nailed the 3-pointer from way outside to put Paupack in the lead 14-12.
The Lady Bucks stepped up in the second with Roman adding a pair of baskets early on.
A trey from Smicherko put Valley West back in the hunt, but it was nullified by Bridgette Mann who struck back with her own trey. Roman followed with another deuce from underneath.
What shots the Lady Bucks didn't make were made up for by smart play and positioning throughout the quarter. Missed shots on either end of the court were consistently gobbled up by the likes of Nicki Mann, Danielle Palazzi, and Paige Hiller.
While both teams tired towards the end of the period, hard Buckhorn defense allowed only one more basket from Smicherko and at the half, Paupack was up 23-17.
Things got rough for the Lady Bucks in the third quarter.
Missed Buckhorn shots found their way into Spartan hands and back down court too many times. Valley West's defense allowed only two Paupack shots, both served up by Roman, to shake the silk.
Meanwhile, combined efforts from Kane, Hoffman, and Smicherko, they racked up 13 points to take back the lead. At the close of three quarters, the Lady Bucks were now down 27-30.
Down by three points, Roman started things off in the fourth quarter with a jumper.
However, Cheyanne Reese negated the gain by landing a deuce for herself, thus keeping West in the lead.
A back-and-forth battle raged as the Lady Bucks tried to gain points only to see the Lady Spartans maintain the status quo.
A bucket from Bridgette Mann was offset by a 2-pointer from Hoffman. Palazzi's basket was negated by a shot from Kane.
Finally, Mann would strike again. This time from the outside for three and the game was tied up again. It didn't last long though, as a two from Smirchko put West ahead, but Mann came right back with two more and all things were tied up once more, 38 all.
With 2:50 left on the clock, fans on both sides were becoming more and more restless. An inside jay from Roman put Paupack in the lead, but with just over a minute left, Hoffman struck back with a Valley West basket and tied it up 40-40.
Short drives by both sides chewed up the remaining time, but with no new points the game headed to overtime!
Moment of Truth
Tara Judge snapped up two points in the early part of the period.
Nervousness grew. One could feel it through the stands.
Then, with her third and final trey of the night, Bridgette Mann took the lead for the Lady Bucks, but they still had to keep battling. Driving for some insurance points, Mann was fouled in the process and was awarded two free throws.
Going 1-for 2 at the line, she added another point to the buffer, and with just three seconds left, the Lady Bucks were able to keep up the defensive pressure and close out the game with a 44-42 victory and the District 2 AAAA title.
Somewhat speechless, Alexix Roman was taking it all in.
"We knew coming into it that this would be a tough game and physically demanding," she said. "Rebounding was important and attacking was key. Bridgette really stepped up tonight and did a great job."
The Lady Bucks were gracious in their win.
Many members of the squad walked away from the district soccer finals just four months ago in the same position as Valley West. While those silver medals then were nice, many stated that adding gold ones to their hardware collection was much better.
Among those were the Mann sisters.
"This was such an awesome game and very special for us, stated Bridgette.
"This was a crazy game," added Nicki, "It was nerve wracking but we all knew we wanted this tonight. We really had to push ourselves in OT and finish strong."
An emotionally-drained Coach Adam Holtzer was quick to point out several key moments in the victory.
"Raeanne's 3-pointer at the end of the first was a turning point for us," he said. "It helped us keep up the attack in the second.
"Valley West was able to adjust to us in the third, but our girls kept up and played hard through the last quarter and into overtime.
"This team is resilient. They fight back, claw their way out of situations, and just never give up."
The Lady Bucks will now begin the long road to the state championships by facing off against Parkland at Scranton High School on Friday night.
Coincidentally, the Manns" uncle is a football coach at Parkland.
When asked if he'll be rooting for his own school or sticking for the family, Nicki smiled and stated, "I'm pretty sure he'll be cheering for us."