Panthers Come Up Big Down the Stretch

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SHILLINGTON – Shayla Felder laughed.
Yes, Cheltenham’s junior guard admitted, she did think she would be enjoying the latter part of Tuesday night’s PIAA Class AAAA second round game against Northampton from the bench. Especially after she buried a pair of treys that propelled the Lady Panthers to an early 18-6 lead.
“I thought we were going to blow this team out when I hit those two three’s,” said Felder, who led the Panthers with 14 points despite playing on a heavily taped knee she injured in Friday night’s win over Reading. “My shot has been off for I don’t know how many games, and I thought I was going to sit down, watch the bench (players) get in and cheer.”
Felder couldn’t have been further off the mark.
Instead of relaxing on the bench, Felder – sore knee and all - was sweating it out on the court, and after the Konkrete Kids trimmed the Lady Panthers’ double-digit lead to one, it was Felder’s tough three-point play out of the spread offense that gave Cheltenham a four-point lead with 70 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Konkrete kids didn’t go down quietly, but thanks to some clutch foul shooting down the stretch by the Lady Panthers, who buried eight-of-nine from the line in the fourth quarter, Cheltenham escaped with a dramatic 43-38 win.
“We have confidence to stay in the game – not let the scoreboard get in our heads or the refs,” Felder said.
“There were some bad calls,” teammate Tiffany Johnson interjected.
“But we still pulled through,” Felder said. “We don’t let that get to us because we’re stronger than that as a team.”
As the jubilant Lady Panthers headed to the locker room, they passed a Downingtown West squad that was preparing to take the court against defending state champ and District Three champion Central Dauphin in the second half of the twinbill.
“Good luck,” coach Bob Schaefer told the Whippets. “Let’s make it an all-District One final.”
That suggestion seemed far-fetched, at best.
After all, the Whippets, the fourth seeded team out of District One, boasted a 19-9 record while the defending state champs were 29-1, but The Whippets stunned the basketball world, pulling off the biggest upset of the state tournament with a 42-39 win.
That outcome was perhaps as unexpected as the ending of the opener after Cheltenham sprinted to a double-digit lead.
“We stopped making shots,” Schaefer said. “And they (the Konkrete Kids) finally started realizing they could capitalize weakside on our guards, and that’s where they were killing us on the left side. They had a six-foot back-up down there, and that hurt us a lot.
“The kids showed a lot of character. They really did because it would have been easy to pitch their tent once they came back. We played smart. We executed what we were trying to do.”
Interestingly, Felder’s clutch basket came on a shot the junior guard wasn’t supposed to take.
“She was supposed to stop at the foul line and kick it back out,” Johnson said.
“I saw the opening,” Felder said. “It was like, ‘You better take it, Shayla.’ I thought she (6-2 Megan Bowen) was going to block it, and if she had, I would have been on the bench for the next game.”
But Felder’s tough, off-balance shot somehow found its way past Bowen’s outstretched arms.
The basket broke a five-minute Cheltenham scoring drought, and after Felder hit nothing but net on the foul shot, the Lady Panthers led 36-32. They had a chance to extend that lead but misfired on the front end of a one-and-one, allowing the Kids to pull to within two after a bucket by Ali Braithwaite with 37 seconds remaining.
Felder was fouled on the inbounds and buried both ends of a one-and-one. Again, the Kids responded. This time Kara Bonenberger scored on a putback with 19 seconds remaining.
Dayna McCrewell (eight points, 14 rebounds) sank a pair from the foul line with 18 seconds showing on the game clock. A bucket by sophomore Alyssa Bonenberger, who had a game-high 20 points, cut the Panthers’ lead to 40-38 with 10 seconds left in regulation.
Felder connected on one-of-two from the charity stripe, and a Northampton travelling violation gave the ball back to the Panthers. Johnson, who had eight points in another solid outing, iced the win by burying a pair of foul shots.
“It feels great,” McCrewell said. “We have another game. I’m just trying to keep everybody encouraged and keep everybody working hard.”
There was absolutely nothing to suggest this game was going to come down to the wire when Johnson – after McCrewell drew a charge at the other end – scored off the dribble to spot the Lady Panthers a quick 8-0 lead.
That lead ballooned to 14-5 after Felder buried her second trey of the game, and when Johnson turned a Felder steal into a bucket, the Panthers led 16-6 at the end of one quarter. That lead grew to 18-6 after Liz Taliaferro – who once against game the Panthers valuable minutes off the bench – scored on a shot off the dribble.
“Liz again stepped right in there,” Schaefer said. “She’s our sixth starter, and she played like it.”
The Konkrete Kids – with a back line that measured in at 6-2, 6-0 and 5-9 – had a height advantage at every position, and when the Lady Panthers began misfiring from the outside, the Konkrete kids were able to trim a once-commanding lead to 21-16 at the intermission as the Lady Panthers scored just three points over the final 6:25 of the half.
“Shayla and Monet (Constant) made shots all season, and after them, it’s a wish and a prayer,” Schaefer said. “Once they’re not shooting, we’re counting on Liz for scoring and Dayna, who had a 6-2 kid on her.
“They were a giant, giant team. In the beginning of the game, we really got them frazzled. We were blowing by them, but when we stopped making shots, they were controlling the ball a little better, and we couldn’t seem to get it going. That’s when they got back in the game.”
While the Lady Panthers stopped scoring, the Kids were benefitting from repeated trips to the foul line, scoring six of their 10 second quarter points from the foul line.
Cheltenham opened up a 27-20 lead after a fastbreak bucket by Felder midway through the third quarter, but back-to-back baskets by Bonenberger made it a two-point game. Taliaferro scored on a pull-up jumper, but Bonenberger answered with a putback at the other end.
McCrewell – who briefly moved to the point on the spread – scored on a nifty drive through the trees as time was expiring, sending the Panthers in the fourth quarter with a 31-27 lead.
“I was just thinking, ‘If you don’t have a layup, just pull-up for a bank shot,’” McCrewell said. “She (Bowen) actually tipped it, but it still went in.”
The Konkrete Kids trimmed the Panthers’ lead to one (33-32) after a bucket by Braithwaite with 5:10 remaining. Neither team scored until Felder’s clutch three-point play, setting the stage for the dramatic finish.
 “This is a win for the kids,” Schaefer said. “They showed all the heart they had today. They went up against a giant – it was David and Goliath.
“I heard people say when we came out, ‘My god, they’re so small,’ and we were, but it didn’t matter to the kids. They played their game, and it worked out our way.”
Northampton (38) – Kiara Bonenberger 1 0-0 2, Alyssa Bonenberger 7 5-8 20, Abby Silfies 1 3-5 5, Megan Bowen 1 3-5 5, Emily Schultz 1 3-4 5, Jackie O’Connell 0 0-0 0, Ali Braithwaite 3 0-2 6. Totals 13 11-19 38.
Cheltenham (43) – Jenna Peoples 0 0-0 0, Monet Constant 3 0-0 6, Tiffany Johnson 3 2-2 8, Shayla Felder 4 4-7 14, Dayna McCrewell 3 2-4 8, Sydni Epps 0 0-0 0, Liz Taliaferro 3 1-2 7. Totals 16 9-15 43.
Northampton    6              10           11           11-38
Cheltenham       16           5              10           12-43
Three-point goals: Northampton – S. Bonenberger. Cheltenham – Shayla Felder 2.