Photo by James Parrish
The 2013 SPVA girls' basketball champion Hershey Lady Panthers.
After falling short for three years, the Hershey girls' basketball team finally claimed the South Platte Valley Association championship Saturday in a battle of two of the finest girls teams in western Nebraska.
The Lady Panthers earned a 44-30 win over North Platte St. Pat's in the conference tournament finals at North Platte Community College.
"It's a huge monkey off of our back," said Hershey coach Jeremy Thomas. The girls worked so hard for this and this is a big goal. The SPVA is not just a conference tournament, it's a big thing in this area. I couldn't ask for a bigger thrill."
The Lady Panthers (12-3) found themselves trailing 8-2 at the end of the first quarter. But they scored the first six of the second quarter to tie the game.
Brittany Lawrence and Shelby Allberry came back with baskets for St. Pat's (14-2). But Daynlee Miller responded by making a three-pointer and then Brooke Frederick followed with a couple of free throws to give Hershey the lead.
Maegan Hiatt scored the last basket of the half to give the Panthers a 15-12 lead at halftime.
"Offensively, I was not happy (in the first half)," Thomas said. "We were just standing around. But our defense was huge in that we held St. Pat's to only eight points in the first quarter. They we made the run in the second quarter to get the lead and we never looked back."
Hiatt scored the first six points of the second half with a three-point play and a trey to stretch the lead to nine.
The Irish didn't go away. A three by Mandy O'Malley with 2:39 left in the third quarter brought St. Pat's to within 23-20. Both teams battled for the rest of the third and the Lady Panthers held a narrow 26-24 lead going into the final period.
Maddie Seamann scored for Hershey on the first possession of the fourth and then Hiatt got a layup off of a steal to make it a six-point game. Then Tayler Baker buried a three from the left corner to make it 33-24 with 6:38 left in the game.
St. Pat's scored the next five and pulled to within four after an Allberry three. But after that, the Lady Irish went stagnant on offense and did not score for nearly five minutes.
The Panthers finished the game with seven of the last eight points scored to convincingly win the SPVA, their first conference championship since 2005.
Irish coach Nathan Stienike said that Hershey's defense definitely made it hard for his team to execute, especially down the stretch.
"You've got to credit Hershey's defense for holding us to under 30 points," he said. "We couldn't seem to score. When we got a shot off, they got the rebound."
"Our defense was huge for us," said Thomas. "I am proud of the way we played. We contested every shot."
Score by quarters
St. Pat's 8 4 12 6 - 30
Hershey 2 13 11 18 - 44
St. Pat's (30)-Mandy O'Malley 7, Samantha Byrn 6, Brook Boucher 2, Shelby Allberry 7, Brittany Lawrence 8
Hershey (44)-Taylor Mustion 2, Daynlee Miller 13, Brooke Frederick 3, Maegan Hiatt 13, Tayler Baker 5, Maddie Seamann 6
Free Throws: SP 3-10, H 13-18; Three Point Goals: SP 3 (O'Malley 2, Allberry), H 3 (Miller, Hiatt, Baker)