Panama (14-5) put up a valiant performance at Jamestown High School on Saturday afternoon against top-seeded Pine Valley (18-2), but was not able to claim the Section 6 Class D girls basketball crown as it dropped a close 48-38 decision in the fourth quarter.
Panama carried a No. 3 seed into its first-ever sectional championship at the McElrath Gymnasium and were there every step of the way with Pine Valley for three quarters until Kayla Mansfield was able to finish the game off in the final two minutes.
Pine Valley struggled to close out the game from the foul line as Mansfield went 1-for-3 in the final quarter and her team was 10-for-30 overall at the charity stripe, but key rebounds by the senior forward made up for the shooting woes.
Kayla Mansfield of Pine Valley drives around Panama’s Brittany Lenart during Saturday’s Section 6 Class D championship game. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Jay Young
"The thing that made it closer than I wanted it to be was we just missed shots," said Pine Valley coach Tim Nobles. ''We missed a ton of shots, we missed a ton of foul shots and that's two games in a row and that's not really our nature, especially from the foul line. I mean it is what it is, after 34 years of coaching you just take what they give you and we just had way too many turnovers, I think we're just trying to do too much sometimes.''
Neither team was able to pull ahead for the championship with five minutes to play as the score stood even at 36 thanks to a bucket from Emilee Sperry of Panama.
Throughout the game, Pine Valley was helped by a well-distributed offense and that proved decisive as time wound down with three different players scoring to pick up a final lead.
The No. 1 seed earned its winning margin after a putback from Mansfield, a drive by Jessie Wilcox and a clinching inside bucket from Kaleigh Brunswick to go up 42-38.
Panama had one final chance to even the game with a defensive play, but a long inbounds pass to Katie Hoth stretched the lead to 44-38.
While foul shots were a problem, Pine Valley got the ones they needed at the end from Hoth, who went 2-for-2 in the final possession of the game.
Despite the loss, this season still marks a high point for Panama and coach Rob Collver, who was more than pleased with the performance of his team.
"I'm very proud of (the girls)," he said. "The things that they've gone through this whole season, playing through injuries and different things, and playing in our division too, our division is hard, and I think I really prepared them for what we were going to face in this tournament, so I'm very proud of them. They worked hard.''
The Panama offense looked very much up to the challenge of its first-ever championship game as sophomore Taylor Bowen came out hot and buried a 3 to begin the game.
Bowen then followed up her offense by drawing a charge at the other end of the court after which Sperry found her shot from long range.
Pine Valley was unfazed by the early fireworks from the No. 3 seed and had brought the game to 11-9 in favor of Panama after a steal and drive by Alex Bentham.
She would go on to post a solid all-around outing with 12 points, four assists and seven steals.
Panama got its lead back headed into the second quarter thanks to more inside work by Brianna Marsh and Brittany Lenart.
Lenart was a leader on both ends of the court throughout the night with seven boards, five blocked shots and 13 points in the loss while Marsh hit four points with five boards and three blocks.
The tight play in the opening quarter was a sign of more great basketball to come.
Pine Valley came storming back after dropping the opener with a trey by Bentham and another deuce at the buzzer to go up 22-20 at halftime.
The third quarter saw Panama catch fire from beyond the arc once again with Bowen and Lenart draining shots to take the lead back at 31-29.
Bentham made a final push at the end of the third with an athletic drive to the hoop for two that showed Pine Valley up by just a point moving into the final stanza.
Sperry did her best to keep the game level with two inside buckets in the final eight minutes to even the tilt once more at 36, but unfortunately Panama's other shooters went cold with the game on the line.
The victory for Pine Valley marks sweet moment for a team that has struggled in some big games in years past.
"I don't remember if this is our fifth in a row or fourth in a row section final (losing in last year's championship), so now it's like we finally got that monkey off our back," said Nobles.
Kelsey Johnson was another key piece of Panama's solid outing as she had seven rebounds and five blocks.
Mansfield led the way for Pine Valley with 11 points and 10 boards for the double-double.
Pine Valley will now move on to the Far West Regionals to face the Section 5 Class D champion at Finger Lakes Community College on Saturday at a time to be announced.
Bowen 3 0 8, Sperry 4 0 8, Strickland 1 1 3, Marsh 1 2 4, Lenart 4 3 13, Johnson 1 0 2. Totals 14 6 38.
PINE VALLEY (48)
Waterman 1 0 2, Mansfield 4 3 11, Bentham 5 0 12, Brunswick 4 0 10, Hoth 1 3 5, JeWilcox 1 1 3, JaWilcox 1 3 5. Totals 18 10 48.
3-point goals: Bentham 2, Brunswick 2, Bowen 2, Lenart 2.
Panama 15 3 12 6-38
Pine Valley 12 10 11 15-48