ARCHBALD — Less than two minutes away from joining the District 2 Class 3A playoff bracket, the Tunkhannock Tigers passed the ball to Traci Kromko on the wing.
The reserve guard took a dribble, stepped just inside the three-point arc and swished a jumper that not only tied the game, but had the Tigers jumping.
It turned out to be their last chance to celebrate.
Blayse Cholish withstood the pressure — of the season hanging in the balance and Tunkhannock’s relentless defense — to hit three critical foul shots in the game’s final 33 seconds Sunday as Valley View edged the Tigers, 47-44 in a Class 3A district play-in game at Valley View High School.
“There’s definitely pressure when you look at the score and see it’s so close and know these are going to count,” Cholish said. “It didn’t really get too overwhelming for the team. We work on them every day.”
Valley View’s work from the charity stripe — the Cougars coverted 10 of 14 foul shots in the fourth quarter — did just enough to hold off a second spirited comeback by Tunkhannock, and earn the Cougars an expected meeting with powerful Scranton Prep when full slate of District 2 Class 3A playoffs opens Wednesday. The official district seedings will be determined today.
“I’m absolutely encouraged,” said Tunkhannock’s first-year coach Joe Reno, whose team finished 3-17 overall and barely missed the playoff seedings party. “I told them from the beginning of October to today, we improved tremendously.”
That growth gave Tunkhannock it’s lone win in Wyoming Valley Conference Division I last week, and nearly kept the Tigers playing past this weekend.
Cholish knocked down two three-pointers and scored eight of her 13 points in the first quarter as Valley View shot out to a 16-5 lead.
But Tunkhannock pressed the issue in the second quarter, using a harassing defense that constantly created steals and caused turnovers to finish the first half on a 19-2 surge.
Christine Rossi’s put-back gave the Tigers their first lead, 19-18, and Traci Krompko’s three-pointer sent Tunkhannock into halftime with a 24-18 advantage.
“In the second quarter, we kind of got frazzled, as a team,” Cholish said. “We just made a few mistakes here and there. We recuperated when we told each other we can do it. We know how to break the pressure.”
It wasn’t long after halftime when the Cougars broke back on top, as Griffin Jones scored eight of her game-high 16 points in the third quarter and Valley View took a seven-point lead with a quarter to play.
“Then we had to battle back again in the fourth,” Reno said.
The Tigers certainly tried.
Molly Hampsey triggered Tunkhannock’s second comeback with a three-pointer that pulled the Tiger within five points; Mya Toczko tied the tossed in a 15-footer that whittled the deficit to three; and Hampsey — who led Tunkhannock with 13 points — twice closed the gap to two points with a pair of foul shots 30 seconds apart. Then Kromko raised Tunkhannock’s spirits with a rainbow jumper that evened things up, 40-40 with 1:38 on the clock.
But Cholish and Valley View’s free throw shooting took over.
Jordan Seprosky put the Cougars ahead to stay with two foul shots with less that 90 seconds on the clock. Then Cholish, who nailed five of her seven free throws in the final quarter, converted a pair with 33 seconds to play, and one more with seven seconds showing. That last foul shot forced a Tunkhannock three-point attempt that hit an over-hanging backboard near the sideline and bounced into the stands, ending the Tigers’ bid to advance to the district’s top 16 in Class 3A.
“The kids are upset after this game,” Reno said. “They wanted the season to continue. We hate to see it end.”
Then again, with three juniors and two sophomores in their starting lineup and just one senior departing, maybe Sunday was only the start of something for the Tigers.
“We’re young. We have everybody back,” Reno said. “There’s no reason why we can’t compete next year for the league. I’ll give them a day off, then it’s right back to work.”
Valley View 47, Tunkhannock 44
TUNKHANNOCK (44) — Amanda Hardy 2 1-3 5, Molly Hampsey 4 4-4 13, Christine Rossi 2 0-2 4, Maegan Wrubel 2 0-0 5, Mya Toczko 3 0-0 6, Traci Kromko 3 3-4 10, Ashley Knott 0 1-2 1, Adry Appleby 0 0-0 0, Brittany Sickler 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 9-15 44.
VALLEY VIEW (47) — Olivia Bartkowski 2 1-3 7, Kelly Mecca 0 1-2 1, Jordan Seprosky 1 6-6 8, Griffin Jones 7 2-2 16, Blayse Cholish 3 5-7 13, Quinn Kelly 1 0-0 2, Olivia Chieffallo 0 0-0 0. Totals 14 15-20 47.
Three-point goals — TUN 3 (Wrubel, Kromko, Hampsey); VV 4 (Cholish 2, Bartkowski 2).