The Pioneer Valley Panthers girls basketball season came to an end Tuesday night on their home court with a 59-53 overtime loss to the Bakersfield Liberty Patriots in the first round of the CIF Central Section Division 2 girls basketball playoffs.
“We just ran out of gas in overtime,” said Pioneer Valley head coach Mike Bloodworth. “They did a good job with their inside game, they controlled the backboards, and 21 (Breanna Canfield) hit two crucial free throws at the end of regulation.”
The Panthers (17-9, tied for first in the Ocean League) ran out to a big early lead but the scrappy Patriots (11-14, third in the Southwest Yosemite League) battled back to take a one-point lead at the half.
“This was an opportunity for our girls. We came in as the ninth seed and a lot of times you don’t get any respect as a 10-win team,” said Liberty coach Terrence Hubbert. “We started slowly but we got it together, the girls were able to make their shots and we gave ourselves a chance to win in the end.”
The second half went the other way with Liberty going up by seven at the end of three quarters only to have Pioneer Valley take a late lead.
But the Panthers couldn’t hold on and regulation ended at 47-all.
“The crowd was in it the whole game. That was good for the girls,” said Bloodworth. “It was good for us to host a CIF game.”
Liberty hit two quick buckets to begin overtime, and outscored Pioneer Valley 12-6 in OT to go home with the win.
Ravynn Anielski led the Panthers with 19 points, Rachel Ramos added 13 and Aalyah Moreno 12. All Moreno’s points came on 3-pointers.
“Those girls have been our backbone all year,” said Bloodworth.
“Pioneer Valley can really shoot threes,” said Hubbert. “I though this game could go either way.”
Anielski got the Panthers off to a fast start, hitting the first of her three 3-pointers to open the game.
When Brianna Robles and Valeria Nol hit back-to-back layups, the Panthers were off to a 7-0 lead.
The Patriots’ Breanna Canfield hit a pair of free throws to get Liberty on the scoreboard, but Pioneer Valley kept rolling to a 13-6 first quarter lead.
But from the second quarter on, Liberty picked up its intensity, controlling the backboards and frequently getting second and third-chance shots, fighting for every loose ball, playing pressure zone defense and generally disrupting the Panthers’ attack.
“On defense we went with a tight 1-3-1 zone and switched to a 3-2,” said Hubbert. “Our girls played great defense but you have to give Pioneer Valley credit, their girls hit some tough shots.”
Canfield hit a short jumper and was fouled with 4:25 left in the half. The jump shot tied the game. The free throw put the Patriots up 15-14.
The two teams traded baskets the rest of the way with the Patriots hold a 23-22 edge at the half.
In a low scoring third quarter, Liberty held Pioneer Valley to three points, winning the period 9-3.
Liberty’s Brooke Soldano hit a layup and a short jumper.
Moreno answered with a 3-pointer from just to the left of the top of the key, but Nol hit a baseline runner and Haley McClure nailed a three from just to the right of the top of the key to put Liberty up 32-25 at the end of the third quarter.
Then it was Pioneer Valley’s turn to turn the tide, going on an 8-0 run to start the fourth to go up 33-32.
Ravynn Anielski hit the three that point the Panthers in the lead. It was the first of four straight 3-points for Pioneer Valley — she hit a second, followed by threes from Moreno and Anielski’s cousin Chyanna Medina Tell.
Liberty answered every time but Tell’s three gave Pioneer Valley a 42-38 lead.
A free throw from PV’s Brianna Robles put the Panthers up 47-45 with 33.1-seconds left in the game but, with 17.3-second left, Liberty’s Nol was fouled going to the hoop.
Nol made both free throws, trying the game at 47-47.
“They did all the stuff you’re supposed to do to win on the road,” said Bloodworth. “They got back in the game. We had the chance to close it out (in regulation) but couldn’t get it done. Still, it was a good learning experience.”
The Panthers had a shot in the last second but missed, the rebound tipped out of bounds by Liberty.
Pioneer Valley’s first attempt at an inbounds pass, with 1.2-second left, was knocked out of bounds by Liberty.
Inbounding with 0.2-second left, Moreno caught the ball and shot but missed as the buzzer sounded.
Liberty’s defense and strength on the backboards helped put the game away in overtime.
“We had to be able to control the rebounds, not just in overtime but in the whole game,” said Hubbert. “And we were able to do that.”
After Liberty’s Jenna Sampley opened OT with a driving layup and a short jumper, Pioneer Valley had its chances but the Liberty defense disrupted the Panthers’ shots, the Patriots coming away with the rebounds.
Anielski had an underhand scoop shot that cut Liberty’s lead to 51-49.
Then Liberty’s Perla Almaguer hit a layup and short jumper, Soldano hit a free throw and Sampley hit a free throw for a 57-49 lead with 31-seconds left in overtime to seal the Patriots’ win.
“We turned it around this year. It was our first time in CIF in the last several years. This should drive the girls to want to have even more success,” said Bloodworth. “I’m looking forward to next year.”