Allowed to run, Pascack Valley sprints into Group 3 final

Friday, March 10, 2017

Cerina Dunkel scored all 10 of her points in the final 8:01 of the game to help Pascack Valley pull away from Sommerville in a 66-53 win in the Group 3 state semifinals.

FRANKLIN LAKES – Heading into Thursday night Pascack Valley had played 29 games and in just about all of them the opponent was determined to slow the Indians down. Because Pascack Valley has multiple players that can handle, pass and shoot the ball and because it has depth and athleticism, no local opponent was all that keen to run up and down the floor with the Indians and take its chances in a shootout.

And then Sommerville showed up at Ramapo High School for the Group 3 state semifinals and finally Pascack Valley was able to shed its shackles.

Somerville was willing to engage in an up-tempo tango and held its own for quite a while. With a Division 1 point guard in University of Maryland - Baltimore County-bound Melody Van Ness, talent on the wing in Nyasia Thomas and a legitimate post presence in Megan Douglas, the Pioneers gave whirl and got up by as many as seven points early in the third quarter.

But when the music stopped, it was only Pascack Valley that was left dancing. With a 13-1 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters and a total of 44 points in the second half, the Indians raced to a 66-53 victory and earned their first trip to the state final since 2010. Pascack Valley will play Ocean City on Sunday at the Pine Belt Arena with a trip to the Tournament of Champions on the line.

“It was awesome. It was just such a great game to be a part of and it gave us a chance to show who we really are, what kind of team we are,” said PV junior Kelly Petro. “I think our speed and our quickness and the way that we play is something that not all teams are prepared for. [Sommerville] is a phenomenal team. They were fast and great and it was awesome to play against them and great to get the win.”

Nyasia Thomas scored 16 points for Sommerville, which won its first state sectional title since 1985.

The game got off to a blistering start as Brianna Wong and Petro each made field goals in the first 28 seconds and Petro scored the final four points of the first quarter to give PV a 16-9 lead. Van Ness got Sommerville right back in the game by scoring the first seven points of the second quarter and Emily Markowski’s jumper from the short corner gave the Pioneers their first lead of the game, 18-16, with 5:11 to go in the first half.

After Petro hit a pull-up jumper for a 19-18 PV lead, Sommerville owned the rest of the second quarter as it closed on an 11-3 run. For freedom it was afforded on offense, Pascack Valley was actually getting beaten at its own game during that stretch. Van Ness, who scored a team-high 17 points, buried an open 3 from the wing, Thomas hit one off an open look set up by a Douglas kick-out from the post and Thomas closed the first half scoring on a traditional post-up and 3-point play that gave the Pioneers a 29-22 lead at the break as they outscored Pascack Valley 20-6 in the second quarter.

“I think we might have been a little bit nervous right before halftime, but then we got in the locker room and we got each other pumped up again,” said PV’s Brianna Smith. “We really wanted this. We haven’t won this round or been to Toms River since 2010 and we were dragging a little bit there right before the half. But we got our game back in the third quarter.”

Pascack Valley quickly closed the gap with an 8-2 run to start the second half and then it was back-and-forth for the remainder of the third quarter. Smith drained a 3-pointer from the corner to give PV a 41-40 lead and Thomas went to the other end and did the same to put the Pioneers back in front with 43 seconds left in the period. She added a free throw 19 seconds later to put Sommerville up 45-40 before an unlikely threat emerged for Pascack Valley at just the right time.

Cerina Dunkel found herself with the ball in her hands just to the left of the top of the key with the clock winding down. She looked for a teammate who might be available to take the last shot of the period and then realized that she was essentially unguarded. She set her feet, shot with confidence and made the open 3 at the buzzer to get the Indians to within two heading into the fourth quarter. It was also the shot that changed the momentum for good.

Kelly Petro scored a team-high 17 points for Pascack Valley, which will play Ocean City on Sunday for the Group 3 state title.

“Cerina just elevated the whole team. On the defensive end she elevated it, she came up with some steals, she rebounded, she finished, she made passes and she controlled the ball,” said Pascack Valley head coach Jeff Jasper. “That is why this is like a Disney production. Out of nowhere comes the princess and that was Cerina Dunkel for us tonight.”

Wong opened the fourth quarter with a 3 that put PV in front and Thomas answered with a free throw to tie the game for the last time. It was Petro’s run-out bucket off a long pass from Wong that final gave the Indians the lead for good, 48-46, with 6:36 left in the game. They put together two separate 7-0 runs to gain some distance and built a comfortable double digit lead, 60-48, with the latter that ended with a Wong free throw with 3:23 to play.

Sommerville lost both Thomas (16 points) and Markowski (6 points) to fouls in the final three-and-a-half minutes and the Pioneers were outscored 23-8 in the final quarter of what was a tremendous season that saw them win their first state sectional championship since 1985.

Petro had 17 points to Pascack Valley (29-1) and it had three other double digits scorers in Brianna Smith, who scored all of her 14 points in the second half, Wong (12 points) and Dunkel, who scored all 10 of hers in the final 8:01 of the game. She made the buzzer-beating 3 and then 7 of her 8 free throw attempts in the fourth quarter. Kelly Smith added 7 points, Shannon Culloo made two field goals and Toriana Tabasco had the other two points for the Indians, who are looking forward to that ride down the Parkway on Sunday morning for a 2:00 p.m. start in the Group 3 state final.

“Here is the beauty of this. I get to practice tomorrow and Saturday and then I get to make that trip down there and play in that little mecca of basketball,” said Jasper, who, by reading to the end of this story, now owes a certain local reporter and his unpaid assistant some fresh PV gear. “This is like a Magical Mystery Tour and I am enjoying it.”