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Girls: Williams Valley's balanced attack upends Lady Bulldogs
By Janet Smeltz, CONTRIBUTING WRITER


Tri-Valley's Taylor Header pilfers the ball from Williams Valley's Haley Nestor when Nestor attempts to drive the lane during the WQLV Christmas tournament championship game. (Sentinel photo by Lon Zeiders)

ELIZABETHVILLE • It was the best of halves.  It was the worst of halves. 

Williams Valley claimed the 98.9 WQLV-FM Holiday Tournament in convincing fashion Dec. 29, defeating defending champion Tri-Valley 51-39.

Using energy and intensity at both ends of the floor, the Lady Bulldogs controlled the first half, extending leads to as much as nine points and looking very much like a team on a mission to repeat as champs. The Lady Vikings struggled with the tenacious defense and suffered uncharacteristic turnover to end up trailing 2015 by halftime at Gordon Foster Gymnasium. Tri-Valley did an excellent job controlling the tempo and keeping Williams Valley from being able to dictate the pace.

But when the second half emerged and the Lady Dawgs seemed poised to continue where they left off, the Lady Vikings had different ideas. This time around, the roles were reversed as Williams Valley ignited a powerful defensive strategy that froze the stunned Dawgs from playing their offensive game.  Williams Valley outscored the Dawgs 36-18 thanks to a balanced scoring attack from starters as well as their bench. 

‘‘The key to our win was our defensive pressure and rebounding in the second half,’’ said senior Hannah Nestor. “I think our press threw them off a little bit and we got a few key steals out of it. Then we limited them to one-shot possessions by rebounding much better in the second half. (Head) Coach (Brian) Unger pretty much told us that we weren’t playing badly, but we had to cut down on turnovers and really hit the boards in the second half.”

In the opening minutes, it was evident that it was going to be fast-paced transition game, with Tri-Valley using a sagging man-to man defense against the Vikings. 

Reagan Newswanger, Kelly Romberger and Olivia Harner gave the Dawgs an 11-6 lead after one quarter.  Newswanger scored on a pull up jumper just seconds into the second quarter.  But the Vikings went on a 6-0 run on a drive by Rayanne Hawk and two quick buckets by Hannah Nestor, cutting the Vikings’ lead to 13-12 with 6:01 remaining until halftime.

The Dawgs then put on a 6-0 run of their own. A baseline drive by Taylor Header was followed by Paige Doyle’s baseline drive and a follow-up floater. The Dawgs were back in the lead, 19-12, with 2:40 remaining. 

Both teams committed three straight turnovers, characteristic of the intense defense that was on display. Two free throws by Madison Scheib gave the Dawgs their biggest lead of the night (21-12).

But that would change.  A timely three-pointer by Viking Kate Whelski to end the half foreshadowed things to come as Tri-Valley led 21-15 at halftime. 

‘‘I felt the three point shot at the end of the half by Kate Whelski was a huge momentum swing for us going into halftime,’’ said Unger.   

Hannah Nestor agreed, saying, ‘‘That shot gave us the little push of intensity we needed and carried over into the third quarter. We came out very ready to play in the second half and really played for each other!’’

‘‘Right before halftime, I was stuck in the corner under the basket and had no shot, but I saw Kate Whelski stand there wide open ready to bang a three like she always does!  That definitely gave us a boost!’’ Hawk added.

The Vikings bolted from the gate in the second half, scoring two straight buckets and cutting Tri-Valley’s lead to within two points.  Haley Nestor’s drive down the left lane, a Hawk-to- Hannah Nestor coast-to-coast and a solid block by Haley Nestor in less than a minute of play forced Dawgs’ Coach Clark Romberger to call a timeout.  The Lady Vikings made defensive adjustments, going to a 1-2-2 zone defense, including full and half court pressure that appeared to wear down Tri-Valley’s mental toughness and limit their outside game, as they struggled to hit the perimeter shot.

‘‘Their half-court zone bothered us more than the full court pressure, although their full-court pressure slowed us down; their half-court defense was very good,’’ Romberger said afterward. ‘‘We really struggled to get good shots.  They forced us into turnovers and into taking perimeter shots, which led to a lot of fast break opportunities for them and our transition defense was not good at all.’’

‘‘Tri-Valley is a very well-coached team, who we knew going in would be a tough opponent,’’ Unger said. ‘‘Our kids hung in and fortunately were able to get some cushion in the second half.’’

‘‘Coach Unger gave us a pep talk at halftime and asked what defense we felt more comfortable in, 1-2-2 or man. We all said at the same time ‘1-2-2’ and it proved to be the best choice because we were more aggressive and Tri Valley could not adjust to that defense,’’ Hawk noted. ‘‘The key in the second half was just to play like a team and have confidence in ourselves.’’

Hannah Nestor nailed a trey from the top of the key with 4:32 remaining in the third period to give the Vikings a 24-23 lead that would be challenged but not overtaken by the disheartened Dawgs. A pickpocket by Haley Nestor ended with a Whelski fast break. 

A 10-3 run in the last two minutes of play was ignited when Caitlyn Pinchorski came off the bench to score three timely and crucial buckets to take a 37-27 third period lead. Haley Nestor led the third quarter with seven points, two steals and an assist. Hawk would also play a crucial factor in this stretch. 

Despite Tri-Valley’s determination to turn things around – including a timely three by Newswanger to cut the lead by four (31-27) with less than a minute to go in the third period – the Vikings responded. A Hannah Nestor offensive rebound, a Hawk drive and a spectacular Hawk diving save fueled the team’s mission. 

With the ball appearing destined to land out of bounds with just seconds left, a desperation stretch by Hawk and a scooping pass to Pinchorski returned the ball inbounds, igniting the gymnasium with a fan base that added energy to an already pumped up Viking squad. 

‘‘When I saved that shot out of bounds and threw it into Caitlyn under the basket and she scored, that was awesome!’’ Hawk said. ‘‘I loved how all our supporting fans started cheering like crazy! I love those moments. That definitely got us a lot more pumped!"

Newswanger opened the last quarter with a trey.  Doyle also scored a bucket and two free throws, but the Dawgs would be haunted by Williams Valley’s 8-1 run fueled by balanced scoring. Alyssa Schadle scored four points and Hawk six points down the stretch to seal the victory. 

‘‘"It has been a few years since Williams Valley has won this tournament, so it was nice to win,’’ Unger said. ‘‘I really was very happy with the way the girls responded in the second half. I felt that we turned up our intensity and played much better. Our rebounding improved, which enabled us to run the floor a bit more. Our baskets allowed us to set up our pressure, which helped us get back into the game.

‘‘I was extremely pleased with our bench – Caitlyn Pinchorski (six points); Alyssa Schadle (six points); and Jenna Daniel (four rebounds)  – who gave us a big lift both offensively and defensively,’’ the coach added. ‘‘All five starters also played a very important role throughout the game with endless hustle and great defense in the second half. It was nice to win, especially for the seniors who put so much into the program over the past four seasons."

Hawk echoed how sweet it was to win the trophy for the seniors.

‘‘The bench did a great job tonight. They did their job, coming into the game and making a positive impact on the game,’’ she said. ‘‘At a time out in the fourth quarter with a couple of minutes left, Coach Unger told us that we’ve come too far in this game to give it all up. Him saying that made me smile and pushed me more to get out there and win!

‘‘I'm so happy we won the tournament this year. I told all the seniors it was for them because none of us on the team ever got this experience and now we have these bragging rights!" Hawk added.

Hawk led the balanced scoring attack with 13 points. Hanna Nestor added 11 points and Whelski chipped in with nine points. 

For Tri-Valley, Newswanger scored 13 points. Doyle added 10 points. 

‘‘Tri-Valley is a tough team and we have always been rivals,’’ Haley Nestor noted. ‘‘At halftime we agreed we had to dig down deep and come out strong the second half. Winning the Christmas tournament meant a lot to us considering Williams Valley hasn't won it for a while.”

CONSOLATION  ROUND

Upper Dauphin Area 59, Millersburg 30, Dec. 29. The Lady Trojans outscored the Indians in every quarter to seal third place in the tournament. 

Kelsey Hoffman and Taylor Brown each scored 16 points to lead their team to victory. Brown also grabbed seven rebounds and earned three assists. Laura Sweger earned a double double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. The Lady Trojans committed just 11 turnovers for the night. 

Mariah Armor led Millersburg with 12 points. Kelsey Koppenhaver added six points.

 


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