Indians’ fairytale season comes to an end

Pascack Valley falls short in overtime thriller

Noah Schwartz and Josh DeLuca

At the onset of the season, Pascack Valley coach Jeff Jasper said that his squad, with just one returning starter and an otherwise inexperienced team, had a “long way to go” if they hoped to return the elite level of years past.

Without any shadow of a doubt, the 46th iteration of Jasper’s Indians’ traveled a lot further than anyone would have expected, finishing 22-9 and capturing the North 1, Group 3 title along the way.

“Everyone was expecting us to not go very far,” junior forward Olivia Jones said.

Though at times they seemed poised to continue their fairytale ride, the Indians’ road came to end on Wednesday night with a 41-38 loss to Chatham in the semifinals of the Group 3 Tournament, falling just a win shy of a trip to Toms River and a spot in the Group 3 final. Valley trailed for the majority of the game, only to come roaring back in the fourth quarter to force overtime.

“We are just so proud of what we were able to do,” Jasper said. “The evolution of how they learned how to play the game, how they care for each other. I feel bad that we didn’t win, but I feel so great that this team grew.”

The Indians were down by 12 entering the fourth quarter, but inched its way back into the game with strong play on both ends of the floor. Valley’s gritty defense, including a big block by Jones down the stretch, managed to hold Chatham to just a single point in the quarter. Valley found themselves down five before freshman Jules Vassallo canned a three pointer with just over 3 minutes to play, and a pair of Sofia Battista free throws tied the game at 35 with just under a minute left.

Chatham held for the final shot and had a prime opportunity to take the lead with just seconds to play, but missed a wide-open layup. PV had a chance to win as they took possession with about five seconds left, but Brianna Smith’s last ditch three pointer came up short at the buzzer.

“The last play of [regulation], I wasn’t calling a timeout,” Jasper said. “[With] 4.5 seconds to go, the ball is going in Bri’s hands. Whatever she does with it, I’m living with it. Who cares, she deserves to have it.”

Overtime was a back and forth affair, with the teams trading the lead throughout. After a Smith layup put the Indians up 38-37 with a minute to play, Chatham answered with a bucket from center Shannon Donohoe, giving the Cougars a lead they would never relinquish. Two clutch free throws in the final seconds sealed the win.

With the win, Chatham will move on to face Mainland in the Group 3 final on Sunday at RWJ Barnabas Health Arena in Toms River.

In what amounted to be her final game in an Indians’ uniform, Smith led the way, finishing with 18 points and two made threes. PV also got offensive contributions from Vassallo, who scored six, while Battista added 10 and contributed in the paint and on the boards. Jones scored the remaining four points and was a strong defensive presence in the paint.

Jasper said that at the start of this year, he considered his program to be in the midst of a rebuild, something that hadn’t happened at Pascack Valley since its inaugural season. However, unlike that original team that finished 2-13, this team went on to win a sectional title. This year’s Indians consistently improved as the season went on; Jasper will miss seeing that progression each day.

“I love the team,” Jasper said. “I love what I do. I have a passion for it. I love the kids… I love teaching them.”