MILTON - Six years ago, Warrior Run did not win a basketball game. Saturday, the Defenders clinched their first Class AA state playoff berth in more than 20 years.
What an upward journey it has been. And what a way, Warrior Run finally made its ultimate breakthrough.
Steph Shamburg played one of the best games of her stellar scholastic career, Abby Fisher shined and the bench came up big as Warrior Run overcame a 10-point third-quarter deficit and edged Montoursville, 43-37 at Milton to win the District 4 Class AA third-place game and earn a state playoff berth.
"That's what is neat to know where this program was when we took it over. To think where it was then and where it is now is awesome," said coach Jon Weaver, who has led Warrior Run to five straight postseason berths. "From the elementary program all the way up the kids have bought in and it's really neat to see where they have come in a short time."
Prior to 2011, the Defenders (21-6) had not won a playoff game in the 21st century. Now they are having one of the best years in program history, have won multiple playoff games and will play District 2 champion Dunmore at a District 2 site in next week's opening round.
As rapid as the rise has been it has not been easy. Neither was Saturday's game. The Defenders trailed 28-18 nearly midway through the third quarter and did not take their first lead until Shamburg hit two foul shots with two minutes remaining.
But Warrior Run never buckled, dominated the final 12 minutes and completed a three-game sweep of Montoursville (15-10). The Defenders pulled within four by the end of the third quarter and outscored Montoursville 17-7 in the fourth.
"What better way to top off your senior year than by going to states," Shamburg said. "No matter how we got there, the fact that we're going is awesome."
"It definitely is very special to all of us," Fisher said. "It is a huge accomplishment considering how long it had been since we won our first district game and then came and got into states."
Shamburg and Fisher led the way. Shamburg was brilliant, refusing to let her career end.
The program's all-time leading scorer produced 24 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and made seven steals while willing her team back in the game. The senior scored all of her points over the final three quarters, including 12 in the fourth.
Fisher was outstanding as well, scoring nine points and hitting five crucial fourth-quarter foul shots. She added three fourth-quarter assists and was terrific in the open court.
"When we went down 10 I thought either we're going to make a run or we're in trouble," Weaver said. "The turning point was when we brought Laura Bastian in and on the first possession we lobbed it into her and scored, then we got a couple stops and finally Steph and Abby decided to take over and that's what we've been waiting for."
Bastian's basket triggered an 8-2 run to end the third quarter. And while Warrior Run still trailed by four entering the fourth, it felt like it was ahead the way momentum had changed. Montoursville managed just four second-half field goals and struggled against
Warrior Run's pressure defense while Shamburg and Fisher attacked the basket and frequently finished or earned trips to the foul line. Shamburg and Fisher were 10 of 11 from the line in the fourth quarter. Fisher fed Shamburg for a basket that made it 39-35 with 1:20 to go before Kelsey Stine answered 10 seconds later and made it a two-point game.
Warrior Run made three big defensive stops when Montoursville had a chance to tie before Fisher hit two foul shots with 19 seconds left. Shamburg rebounded a miss four seconds later and hit two more foul shots, making it 43-37 and clinching the state berth.
Shamburg was 10 for 10 from the line.
"Once you hit that foul shot or get a pass so you can go to the line it just brings your energy up and momentum up and you just want to hit those shots and get ahead," Fisher said.
"We told ourselves we needed to pull it together and start working as a team and that's what we did and we came back and won the whole entire thing."
That Warrior Run rallied and is state-bound is especially impressive considering it lost point guard Emily Webb to a torn ACL in the quarterfinals. Complicating things, three-year starting guard Chloe Eisenhuth fouled out in the fourth quarter.
Players like Bastian and freshmen Maddie Welliver, Rachel Grow and Maddie Beyer came up big and were especially strong defensively.
"It's knowing that we can rely on the girls off the bench to come in and help us out. It's never just one person, it's always the whole team," Shamburg said. "I don't even know how to describe it. I'm just so happy."
Montoursville suffered heartbreak for a second straight game after losing to champion Mount Carmel 42-40 in Wednesday's semifinals. The Warriors were seeking their first state playoff berth since 2000 but still advanced deeper than in any year since 2000.
Kirsten O'Malley scored 11 points, grabbed five rebounds and dealt four assists while Marissa Hall scored 11 points and made three steals. Hall scored seven first-quarter points, helping Montoursville take a 13-6 lead.
Steph Shamburg 7 10-10 24, Abby Fisher 1 7-9 9, Madi Welliver 2 0-2 4, Chloe Eisenhuth 2 0-0 4, Maddie Beyer 0 0-0 0, Laura Bastian 1 0-0 2, Mackenzie Hays 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 17-21 43.
Kirsten O'Malley 2 6-6 11, Kelsey Stine 3 1-4 7, Lexi Marchioni 2 1-2 5, McKenzie Ruffing 1 1-2 3, Marissa Hall 4 2-2 11, Alexis Weisser 0 0-0 0, Marissa Folk 0 0-0 0. Totals 13 11-16 37.
Warrior Run6 10 10 17--43
Montoursville13 9 8 7--37
3-pointers: Montoursville 2 (O'Malley, Hall)
Records: Warrior Run 21-6. Montoursville 15-10.