Decade’s best No. 8: Montoursville won its first district title since 2000 by beating Mifflinburg in 2017 District 4 Class AAA final
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a series looking back at the Top 10 girls basketball teams, coaches, games and players from the last decade.
Most players had not yet been born when Montoursville won its last District 4 championship. Led by Kelly Mazzante, Montoursville had blitzed Milton in the 2000 Class AAA final while making a second straight state final run.
Dark days soon ensued, though, and Montoursville suffered through nine straight losing seasons from 2003-11. The page was turned in 2012 and Montoursville became a winner again, reaching states in 2015 and putting together five straight winning seasons entering the 2017 season. But that district title remained elusive.
Until March 3, 2017. That night the Warriors left their mark on program history. That night they ended the championship drought while showing how talented and tough they were.
Montoursville dominated the final five minutes and Lauren O’Malley, Lexi Marchioni and Marlene Bassett all delivered big performances as Montoursville defeated Mifflinburg, 42-35, and won the District 4 Class AAAA championship.
“This is unbelievable,” Bassett said after cutting down her piece of the championship net. “Everyone is aware of the Kelly Mazzante era so to be able to put ourselves with her as a team, coming together and doing this together means a lot. Seventeen years is a long time. That’s the age of a lot of these girls, but this is what we came here to do and we got it done.”
“I don’t think people from our school realize this hasn’t been done for 17 years,” Marchioni said after dealing five second-half assists. “Now we’ve proven ourselves to everybody.”
Montoursville had proven throughout the regular season that it was one of the district’s elite teams. The Warriors routinely blew out opponents while going 21-1. Mifflinburg would go on to win 2018 and 2019 district championships and was one of the few teams Montoursville did not batter. The Warriors won both games by 10 combined points and those victories secured their first league championship sine 2000.
That title and the regular-season success made the district’s top seed a marked squad entering districts. Nothing came easy in the playoffs, but this gave Montoursville a chance to show it had the tenacity to match its talent. The Warriors survived determined Shikellamy in the quarterfinals, winning, 37-28. Montoursville had defeated Jersey Shore by 28 in January but trailed by 11 in the third quarter of the semifinal rematch. Again, Montoursville dug deep and rallied for a 47-40 win.
Those victories were important not just because they sent Montoursville to the district final, but also because they made it impervious to late-game pressure or doubts. And that played a major role against a Mifflinburg team hungry to avenge those previous defeats, one that two years later became a state semifinalist.
Montoursville struggled throughout the first half and both Marchioni and Bassett, the team’s senior leaders, were in foul trouble. Still, the Warriors persevered and O’Malley helped it pull even at 15-15 by halftime. O’Malley scored 15 points in the middle quarters and the Warriors opened a five-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Back Mifflinburg came and scored five straight points, tying it at 31 with five minutes remaining. A championship potentially slipping away, players rallied around each other and Montoursville started taking over. Marchioni hit a long 3-pointer, added a free throw and found Bassett inside as Montoursville went up 37-31 with 2:30 left. Mifflinburg never pulled closer than three again.
“I don’t think anyone was stressed out,” Marchioni said. “We just knew we had to keep playing defense and that’s what we were doing the whole game.”
Everything came together over those last five minutes. Shelby Kurtz came off the bench to hit a critical shot, Lydia Albert played well off the bench and reserve Rebecca Reeder calmly drained both ends of a 1-and-1 after Mifflinburg cut the deficit to 38-35 with 61 seconds remaining. Bassett and Marchioni hit two more free throws and Montoursville’s relentless defense, sparked by Gillian Mitchell, allowed no more points.
After dribbling away the final seconds, Marchioni was engulfed by jubilant teammates as Montoursville celebrated a hard-earned championship 17 years in the making.
“Down the stretch the will to win took over,” Montoursville coach Travis Heap said. “They give everything they have. They know I have confidence in them and they have confidence in me as a coach and we work well together. We work and a 17-year drought ended.”
Montoursville was not finished and won its first state tournament game in 17 years a week later, lambasting York Suburban, 56-14. The Warriors finished 25-3 and completed an upward climb which had started five years earlier.
Montoursville created many lasting memories during this championship season. Winning that district championship the way it did, has to rank at the top.
“This is an amazing feeling,” Bassett said. “To come out with a team effort and pull away and get a win means so much. It’s pretty special.”