Oh, so close

Lady Hornets come up short in agonizing fashion

Juniata Valley coach Rachelle Hopsicker and a trainer look over Lady Hornets all-state forward Halee Smith after Smith injured her knee late in the fourth quarter of Tuesday’s game at Giant Center in Hershey. / Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec

HERSHEY — When Sydney Reed drilled her second straight 3-pointer to give Juniata Valley a nine-point lead with 3:48 to play in the PIAA Class 1A girls basketball championship game Tuesday afternoon, the Giant Center and the entire Lady Hornet bench rose to their feet.

A Jenkintown timeout and another one for the media in the span of a couple seconds gave the girls a chance to soak it all in. The pro-Juniata Valley crowd chanted “finish as one,” and the accomplishment of completing a year-long journey to avenge last year’s title loss seemed within reach.

Then, it all changed.

Halee Smith found herself lying on the court, screaming in agony after a leg injury. Suddenly, the Lady Hornets could not handle the Jenkintown press.

With everything slipping away, senior Taylor Leidy managed to make two free throws with 23 seconds left to momentarily calm the storm.

Just seven seconds later, it all came crashing down when Jennifer Kremp’s 3-pointer tied the game. Juniata Valley managed to tie the game with 40 seconds left in overtime after starting the extra period slow but could never regain the momentum in a 51-46 loss.

“We caught a glimpse of what it could have been like,” Reed said. “But things don’t always play out the way you dream them.”

The loss was particularly crushing to Juniata Valley’s three starting seniors, Maddie Mattas, Reed and Leidy.

Tears dominated an afternoon when just a short time prior, a celebration seemed destined.

“You can’t take the pain away at the moment,” Juniata Valley coach Rachelle Hopsicker said. “We just have to get through it together. All I said was that I was proud of them and how hard they worked. Someone has to walk away not winning, and unfortunately it was us.”

Following Reed’s 3-pointer that made it 36-27, Halee Smith picked up her fourth foul and later had to be carried off the floor with 2:08 remaining.

Over the final three and a half minutes, Juniata Valley turned it over five times against a full-court press as Jenkintown pulled within one point.

“It’s unbelievable how these girls can turn it on,” Jenkintown coach Jim Romano said. “We have pressed every game. I was watching some tape on teams in (Juniata Valley’s) area, and it was hard to find anybody that put ball pressure on the ballhandler. It’s totally different when you have to deal with it the whole way up the court.”

Kremp, who finished 12-for-15 from the foul line, scored a game-high 24 points, but none were bigger than her 3-pointer in the final seconds of regulation.

“She has so much faith in herself,” Romano said. “She always has the green light. We have a lot of faith in her.”

Juniata Valley had time to get down the court, but Leidy’s shot after driving to the basket was blocked out of bounds. Officials signaled Juniata Valley ball, but it was ruled the buzzer sounded before the ball hit out.

“I think we got a little antsy,” said Reed, who led the Lady Hornets with 17 points. “They were trapping from behind, so it’s hard to see them coming. They ran us into a corner, and it wasn’t easy to get out.”

Smith returned from her injury with 1:37 left in regulation and her team up by one.

“I think the flow changed,” Hopsicker said. “We have to stop their positive runs quicker, and unfortunately we didn’t. When she left the game, it changed the flow, and unfortunately we couldn’t get out of it quicker.”

Smith, a sophomore who finished with 11 points and eight rebounds before fouling out in overtime, said she couldn’t remember the play she was injured.

“It happened so fast, and I was out,” Smith said. “I knew I had to go back in as quickly as I could. I tried to hurry up with our trainer and got back in as soon as I could.”

Jenkintown scored the first five points of overtime before Smith finally got Juniata Valley on the board nearly two minutes into the extra period.

“(Sending the game to overtime) gave us a spark, and we realized we needed to go out and win this,” Kremp said. “We were down nine with only a few minutes to go, and we realized we needed to dig deep and not waste our comeback.”

Hopsicker admitted it was tough for the girls to get going in the overtime after being 16 seconds from a state title.

“I think they wanted it to end at (the end of regulation),” Hopsicker said. “Our girls knew we had foul trouble, and that was a concern going into overtime. Maybe that got into their heads, but we still looked at it like we always do with one possession at a time. Unfortunately, they hit some stuff and we missed some stuff.”

Instead of the gold ball they dreamed of, the Lady Hornets settled for their second consecutive silver one.

“It’s a big blow,” Hopsicker said. “We worked to get to this point and finish it out. We wanted to finish it. Our fans wanted us to finish it, and it stinks. It’s a missed opportunity.”

Despite the setback, Hopsicker is proud of what the girls accomplished.

“We rekindled the fire in Juniata Valley with basketball,” Hopsicker said. “It’s rich in history, and I don’t think this is the end. We have more kids coming through, and we hope to continue to make our community proud.”

JENKINTOWN (51): J. Kremp 4 12-15 24, M. Kolb 5 2-6 13, A. Kremp 0 3-4 3, N. Kolb 2 1-3 5, A. Mulvaney 1 2-2 4, Arena 1 0-0 2, C. Mulvaney 0 0-0 0. Totals — 13 20-30 51.

JUNIATA VALLEY (46): S. Reed 4 7-8 17, Taylor 1 0-0 3, Leidy 3 2-5 8, H. Smith 5 1-3 11, Mattas 3 1-2 7, L. Reed 0 0-0 0, O. Smith 0 0-0 0, Jefferis 0 0-0 0. Totals — 16 11-18 46.

SCORE BY QUARTERS

Jenkintown 3 12 8 15 13 — 51

Juniata Valley 5 13 10 10 8 — 46

3-point goals: Jenkintown 5 (J. Kremp 4, M. Kolb); Juniata Valley 3 (S. Reed 2, Taylor)

Records: Jenkintown (31-1); Juniata Valley (26-4)

Officials: Louise Cicerchia, Eric B. Lawson, Earl Harris

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