MAYVILLE - The Pine Valley Lady Panthers (12-8) have made it a habit this season of surrendering big leads.
They've also made a habit of bouncing right back.
Trailing by two, 36-34, with just 14 seconds remaining in regulation after having relinquished a lead that had spanned for 30 minutes and had at one point climbed to as many as 16, sophomore guard Alex Bentham drilled a 3-pointer with 4.5 seconds remaining. It was her third trey of the game and lifted her fourth-seeded Lady Panthers to an upset victory over top-seed and defending Sectional champion Clymer (13-3), 37-36, in the Section 6 Class D girls basketball semifinals on Tuesday evening, at Chautauqua Lake Central School.
OBSERVER Photo by Lisa Monacelli
Pine Valley’s Kayla Mansfield (12) makes a move to the basket Tuesday, during the Lady Panthers Section 6 Class D girls’ basketball semifinal against Clymer, at Chautauqua Lake.
"We sent all our shooters in, had four people (along the 3-point arc) and we just said shoot the first open three," Pine Valley head coach Tim Nobles said. "And (when Bentham received the pass) all I did was watch her feet."
With her coach - and team - looking intently from just a few feet away, Bentham, stationed at the right wing, received the pass from teammate Kayla Mansfield, squared to the hoop and let fly a high-arching shot that hit nothing but net.
Bentham finished with a game-high 14 points to go along with three assists and two rebounds.
Clymer attempted to race down the court for its own last-second score, but was unable to get a shot off before time expired.
"That girl hit a huge shot," Clymer head coach Scott Neckers said. "I thought about calling a timeout (before the play), but (Nobles) was out of them so I didn't want to give him time to draw up a play. And we had already talked about what to do on defense."
He added with an exasperated sigh, "But I guess I should have... coulda, woulda, shoulda."
It was a tough way to close the season for the Lady Pirates, who had lost just two games in their last 18 prior to Tuesday evening. And despite its fourth-quarter comeback - Clymer took its first lead since the 6:30 mark of the opening frame with 48 seconds left in the final period - it was Pine Valley's aggressive, high-pressure defense that made the result seem inevitable.
"We've never seen that kind of speed all year," Neckers said of the Lady Panthers' defense, which racked up 15 steals and created at least twice as many turnovers. "We threw the ball away, missed some open shots and got frazzled."
With the turnovers mounting, Pine Valley held Clymer, a squad averaging nearly 60 points per game, to just 12 points by halftime and 20 by the end of three quarters.
Part of the problem was free throws (12-of-26), while another was the fact that the Lady Pirates shot just 11-of-53 from the field (20.7 percent). Standout Dani Reinwald, meanwhile, who is averaging 22 points and 18 rebounds, was held to just 10 points and 12 rebounds. The defense was so pesky, in fact, that Reinwald was held without a field goal until the three-minute mark of the third period.
"We played excellent defense," Nobles said. "We didn't want Dani Reinwald to get moves down low and we wanted to make sure she didn't get rebounds, and Amber Riggs and Aaren Waterman deserve a lot of credit (for slowing Reinwald)."
While the Clymer offense struggled, Pine Valley got out to a quick start, building a 10-4 advantage after eight minutes and a 25-12 cushion by the break.
And though that offense slowed considerably in the second half - the Lady Panthers scored just 12 the rest of the way - the defense more than made up the difference.
"We play defense, we have been for years at Pine Valley," Nobles said. "That's what we try to do. So whether we have a good offensive game, a great offensive game or a terrible offensive game, we believe our defense will always keep us in the game.
"We didn't have a fantastic offense tonight, but our defense kept us ahead."
Along with Bentham's heroics, Mansfield scored six points to go with seven rebounds and five steals and Laurel Killock swiped four passes as well.
Now, all that stands between Pine Valley and its first Sectional title since 2005 is No. 2 Sherman, who toppled Ellicottville, 49-37, in the other semifinal.
"We're just happy (to be moving on)," Nobles said. "Nobody thought - I mean, we're 10-8 -nobody really, except for these girls, believed that we had a chance (tonight)."
Well, after a performance like Tuesday, people are likely to believe in them now.