After winning three games all of last season, the Pioneer Valley girls basketball team is alone in first place in the Ocean League this year.
Aalyah Moreno slipped through the Nipomo defense in the lane and scored the winning basket, Ravynn Anielski sank two free throws for the last of her 28 points for the last points of the game and the Panthers rallied past the Titans for a 51-48 win at Nipomo Friday night in a showdown for first place.
Kacie Slover's 3-point shot for a potential tie that would have sent the game into overtime bounced off the back rim as time ran out. The Panthers moved to 12-7 and 6-0 to finish the first half of league play. The Titans are 12-8, 5-1.
With Nipomo up 48-47, Moreno, one of the shortest players on the floor, drove into the lane. The taller Titans' defenders seemed to simply lose track of her, and she stopped and hit a three-footer with 1:59 left for the winning basket.
"(The Titans) were expecting her to drive all the way to the basket," said second-year Pioneer Valley coach Michael Bloodworth. "I told her to find her spot and stop.
"They were looking for Ravynn. Ravynn was hot, and they were watching what she was doing. They didn't expect someone else to go to the basket."
A little before Slover just missed her potential game-tying 3, Letty Medina blocked Slover's 3-point shot for the biggest defensive play of the game.
"I just told myself to not get too close to her, not to foul her," Medina said.
The heavy-contact game was close throughout. Moreno, with 12 points, gave Anielski just enough scoring help for the Panthers.
Clarissa Simonson scored 12 of her team high 20 points for the Titans in the first half. Slover put in 10 points.
The Titans led after each of the first three quarters, including 30-26 at halftime and 42-41 after the third. However, their fourth-quarter scoring consisted of a Shantille Simonson free throw and two Clarissa Simonson baskets.
Anielski had 19 points at halftime, with 15 of those coming on five high-arching 3-pointers.
Nipomo had nine players Friday night. Pioneer Valley usually suits up eight, and the Panthers got the job done Friday evening with seven.
Anielski said, "A lot of track work during the summer. Every day for three hours," gave the Panthers the conditioning baseline they needed to play at a brisk pace with small numbers this season.
She also said, "A good summer," gave the Panthers the confidence they needed for the 2018-19 season, their first in the CIF Central Section after moving from the Southern Section, after winning three games in the 2017-18 campaign.
The Panthers showed well during the summer, giving them momentum going into their move to the Ocean League after going 0-14 in their last PAC 8 League campaign before playing in their new league, which is comprised mainly of smaller schools from the Los Padres League.
"The change in leagues came at just the right time," said Bloodworth. "And the summer we had really helped the girls' confidence."
Nipomo was a playoff regular when the Titans were in the Los Padres League.
"That is a very good Nipomo team," said Bloodworth. "They played their hearts out tonight, and it was good to compete against like that, against a team that competes a lot like we do."
Both teams will play 6:45 p.m. league home games Tuesday night. Pioneer Valley will face Atascadero. Nipomo will host Santa Maria.