An Unsung Hero Helps Lift the Panthers Past Valhalla

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Pleasantville’s Jeremy Stone drives vs. Valhalla.

In a game featuring two of the top guards in Section One, Pleasantville’s Mike Manley and Valhalla’s Kevin Kelly, it’s not hard to overlook the contributions being made by some of their teammates.

Take the Panthers’ Jeremy Stone, for instance.

Scoreless in the first half on Friday afternoon, the Panthers’ senior forward erupted for 11 points in the third quarter as Pleasantville broke open what had been an even game at halftime and went on to a 60-46 victory at Kensico School. Kelly and Manley each finished with 28 points, but afterwards it was Stone who was the player Panther coach Chris Welsh wanted to talk about.

“The turning point in this game was Jeremy Stone coming out in the third quarter and attacking the basket,” he said. “Aggressive and attacking the basket. This was a really balanced game. Yeah, Mike had his points. But we had Jeremy with 11 and we had somebody with eight, somebody with seven. So we had a lot of different contributions, and that’s the key for us.”

Kelly poured in 17 of his points before halftime and the Vikings, riding a four-game winning streak, overcame a six-point deficit after one quarter to draw even at 25-apiece at intermission. A bucket by Charlie McPhee with 5:35 left in the second quarter had given the Panthers a 23-15 advantage. But their only basket the rest of the half came nearly five minutes later on a Manley layup.

Meanwhile, Kelly, who had 10 of his points in the second quarter, scored on successive jumpers and teammate Ethan Bartlett followed with a basket just outside the lane that moved the Vikings to within a point. A leaner by Kelly with 36 seconds on the clock enabled Valhalla to walk out of the gym at halftime tied with the Panthers.

“We knew this was gonna be a close game,” said Welsh. “Every time we play Valhalla, it’s a close game. So for it to be tied at halftime is not a surprise.”

Valhalla coach Mike Auerbach didn’t realize his star guard had accounted for more than two-thirds of his team’s first-half offense, but he wasn’t surprised.

“Yeah, Kevin, he’s been really consistent for us,” he said. “I mean, he played great in the first half, he kept us in it. He looked like he was the only one really getting any good looks, any clean looks to go down for us. As is the case, we need more than that, especially against a good team like Pleasantville.”

When the teams returned to the court, it was an unlikely Panther who suddenly took charge of the contest. Just 30 seconds into the third quarter, Stone took the ball to the hoop, put it in off glass while getting fouled and then added the free throw. The Vikings’ Ricky Thomas quickly answered with a 3-pointer that tied the game again. Two free throws by Bartlett gave Valhalla a 30-28 edge with 6:37 left in the period.

But a 3-point shot by Manley 45 seconds later gave the Panthers the lead back and they never trailed again. That’s because Stone soon scored on consecutive scoop shots in the lane and later followed them with two free throws and a fast-break layup that opened up a 40-31 P’ville cushion. By the end of the third quarter, after a turnaround jumper in the lane by Quentin Lupo, the Panthers’ lead had grown to 11 points.

“We encourage every single one of our players to attack the basket, to get to the rim,” said Welsh. “And that was the difference in the game. Once we started attacking the rim, the tide turned in our favor.”

Even though Stone never scored again after the third quarter, it hardly mattered. Manley provided 12 points in the final period, 10 of them coming in the first four minutes and highlighted by a pair of 3-pointers. His two free throws with 4:12 remaining stretched the Panthers’ lead to 54-38. Pleasantville’s biggest margin, 18 points, came with 2:08 left after another two foul shots by Manley.

“I thought Mike Manley played great in the second half,” said the Vikings’ Auerbach. “He’s as good as anybody in the class. He’s the type of kid who can take over a game. I thought we did well on him. He makes tough shots. I don’t think we gave him a lot of easy looks.”

The Vikings had defeated Croton 63-50 on the road a day earlier as Kelly, Bartlett and Orlando Clarke combined for 50 points, but Auerbach knew they would have a tough task trying to follow up with a win over Pleasantville too.

“We were just talking in the locker room about it,” he said. “You know, try not to get too down, hang our heads type of thing because our league is so tough. Like there’s no off nights. It’s hard when you’ve got to bring it every night. And our margin for being good and being bad is very thin.”

Welsh, for his part, was relishing the kind of effort from his Panther team he had been waiting to see and looking forward to upcoming challenges against Briarcliff and Somers.

“Tonight might have been the best game we’ve played all season in terms of a complete game, in terms of the defensive end, in terms of execution,” he said. “We also have a little bit of a gauntlet here to end the season. We’re gonna learn a lot about ourselves. This stage of the year, you don’t stay the same. You get better or you get worse. Today, we certainly got better.”

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