By Josh Shreckengost
West Shamokin senior point guard Abby Oesterling knocks down a runner in the fourth quarter of the Wolves' 41-38 overtime loss to Penns Manor in the District 6-2A quarterfinals on Tuesday night. Oesterling finished the contest with a team-high14 points.
Rural Valley, Pa. -- Though the West Shamokin girls varsity basketball team entered the District 6-2A playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the bracket, head coach Frank Nagy knew his squad would be in for a battle when No. 7 Penns Manor entered the Wolves Den on Tuesday night for a quarterfinal round match-up.
The two teams split the regular season series with each winning on its home court. The third and most critical showdown would result in one team moving forward and the other calling it a season. While West Shamokin rallied from an early deficit to lead by eight points with just six minutes in regulation, the Comets found a way to pull out an improbable victory on the road in overtime, 41-38.
"Coach Nagy does such a great job with this West Shamokin team, so many great players and I just have so much respect for them and the program," Penns Manor head coach Jason Miloser said. "I couldn't be more proud of my girls, the way they stuck together. We got down in the fourth quarter and we just kept picking each other up. I just can't say enough about the effort from all of our girls tonight."
The Comets took the lead in the first quarter thanks to a couple of threes by junior guard Megan Dumm and held the Wolves to just five points in the frame. West Shamokin struggled with turnovers in the period and after the first eight minutes, it looked as if Penns Manor had a formula to stop Sophie Fusaro, the team's leading scorer. The Comets were switching on every screen and were not allowing clean looks at the basket from the perimeter or three-point range and the Wolves struggled from the field.
West Shamokin found a bit of a rhythm in the second period as the Wolves outscored the Comets, 13-3 in the period and held a six-point advantage at the break, 18-12. Senior point guard Abby Oesterling was able to get into the lane and convert as West Shamokin began to pierce the Comets' defense in the paint. The Wolves also got senior guard/forward Kassidy Smith into foul trouble which helped West Shamokin into the lead at halftime.
The back-and-forth affair continued into the second half as Penns Manor outscored West Shamokin, 11-8 in the third period. In a game that was marked by gritty, though defense by both teams, the officials let the girls battle it out on the floor. While West Shamokin dominated the glass and held a large rebounding advantage throughout the contest, Penns Manor's defense and ability to contest shots forced the Wolves into uncomfortable looks at the basket which they struggled to convert.
"That's one of the things that has hurt us for most of the year, we can't give up those second chance opportunities, but the big thing was defensively, we just did such a great job playing defense," Miloser said. "Not ideal to give up that many offensive rebounds, but if you're going to, you have to play great defense."
As the teams battled in the fourth quarter, Smith returned to make her presence felt as she and Dumm rallied the Comets in the final six minutes to force overtime. Both Dumm and Smith finished tied with a game-high 16 points and were obviously integral in Penns Manor's ability to pull off the stunning comeback. The pair combined for 32 of the Comets' 41 points, a whopping 78 percent of the team's offense.
In overtime, the teams played tight defense in the four-minute period, neither wanting to make a mistake as they methodically plowed through their offenses in search of a perfect shot. Smith hit two free throws at the 2:48 mark of overtime and that was it until Oesterling matched those free throws with just 13.5 seconds left to tie the score at 38-38.
The final 13.5 seconds were marked by a controversial no-call after Dumm slid across the court with possession of the ball while being closely guarded by Oesterling. While the West Shamokin sideline and home fans reacted to the lack of a travel call by the officials, Penns Manor was able to recover and get the ball back to Dumm in the corner.
As time ticked away and the game neared a second overtime, Dumm looked as if she was trying to pass back to the middle of the floor when she was tied up Oesterling who was whistled for a foul with just 0.7 seconds left on the clock. Dumm was awarded three free throws and she nailed all three to put the Comets up, 41-38. West Shamokin was unable to get a final shot off before the buzzer as Penns Manor escaped with the win.
"That's a brutal way for it to end and I feel terrible for the seniors to go out like that," West Shamokin head coach Frank Nagy said. "I've said from the beginning that I thought the No. 1 through the No. 8 seed could win it because 2A is such a loaded class. We just didn't do enough stuff tonight. We didn't lose the game on that last play. We gave them too many offensive rebounds and our turnovers, we just didn't battle hard enough in the second half."
Penns Manor will now move on to face No. 3 Southern Huntingdon in the semifinals on Friday. The Lady Rockets took care of No. 6 Bellwood Antis on Tuesday night, 69-56.
For Nagy and his staff, the loss to the Comets marked the end of an era as the team will say goodbye to departing seniors Fusaro, Oesterling, Lydia McIlwain, Brittanny Coleman and Ally Schultheis.
"Tough locker room situation, as you could imagine with all the effort those girls have put in, but it's the toughest group for me to lose, personally," Nagy said. "They were the first girls team I ever coached when they were in seventh grade and our junior high group played in the fall, so I've coached those girls five out of the six years and they have a very close relationship with coach [Phil] Parks and I. They've just been huge in our program and now as veterans, showing the younger girls how they need to be, it's a tough senior group to see go. They're doing everything you want to see a team do and they're definitely going to be missed."
To watch a complete re-broadcast of Penns Manor's 41-38 overtime win against West Shamokin in the District 6-2A quarterfinals, please click the link below: