ANDOVER - No matter the situation, games between Grand Valley and Pymatuning Valley are almost always decided in the closing seconds.
A Division III sectional semifinal at Pymatuning Valley High School was no exception.
The 10th-seeded Mustangs got a monstrous final quarter from their leader, Jake Vormelker, to come from behind and nip the eighth-seeded Lakers, 73-70.
Vormelker struggled early, finding himself face to face with fellow 1,000th-point scorer Quintin Ratliff of PV. For four quarters, the two pretty much neutralized each other. Then, with 3:03 left in the game and PV (12-10) leading 66-59, Vormelker, who went off for 31 points, started a run that closed out the game, outscoring the Lakers 14-4 himself.
Grand Valley travels to Youngstown to play Ursuline in a sectional final on Friday.
PV led, 70-69, in the final minute, but Vormelker hit a layup and stole an inbounds pass after a Mustang turnover to score again with 10 seconds remaining. Cory Mercer's 3-point attempt went wide right for PV, and Nick Blascak scrambled back for another long try just before the buzzer, but it fell short.
"With both Ryan (Shontz) and I being first-year coaches with our schools, we've accomplished a great deal since the season started," Grand Valley coach Matt Brumit said. "We've had great individual players like Jake and Quintin to ride on, but we've also had younger kids step up in their roles as team players to make big plays happen. Chan (Verhas) made a couple huge defensive plays tonight."
Verhas, a senior who until this season had not seen much playing time, made a key steal for the Mustangs late in the fourth quarter that kept their run going.
"Coach told us when we got down early in the game that we are a team that doesn't give up ever," he said. "We've worked hard all year, and we believe we can come back any time we have to. I've learned my role on the team, and it's been a team effort all along. We've had the chance to pressure the ball and to get some steals, but it's been a team effort all the way."
An early 8-0 run for PV gave the Lakers a big lead in the first period. The Mustangs (8-15) answered with an 8-0 run of their own to cut into the deficit. Zach Oscar opened the third period with a long 3-pointer to ignite an 11-0 GV run, giving the Mustangs their first lead since 3-2. The two entered the last period tied at 47, which set up Vormelker's heroics.
"I'll be honest with you," Brumit said. "These slow starts to games are not what I have in store for our team. It's not what we want to do. I'm really proud of how our kids battle all the way, but I'd rather start better."
"It is all a matter of the players getting things done on the floor," Shontz said. "There's no scheming or plotting to do, especially when it's our two teams. Being first-year head coaches, Matt and I have both seen our team's younger players step up and improve since we started out. Tonight, in yet another close game between rivals, at the end we played not to lose and they played to win."
Vormelker had 11 rebounds, eight steals and six assists to go along with 31 points.
Kovats added 18 points, and Verhas registered 11.
Ratliff's 16 points and 14 rebounds paced the Lakers. Travis Kiser tallied 14 points to go with nine boards, and Thurber scored 11, grabbed seven rebounds and handed out seven assists.
In the end, it came down to Vormelker, and he showed why he became a 1,000-point scorer this season.
"This will be tough to deal with for a while," Shontz said. "I've grown up with these guys since junior high, and I've come to love them both as players and as people. This was a tough loss, but I hope Grand Valley keeps moving on."