Over the next 10 weeks, Pitt-Bradford athletics will bring you the Top 10 Moments of the 2012-13 school year.
Each week a new moment will debut, featuring insight from coaches, players, and Sports Information Director Scott Elliott. It all leads up to the No. 1 moment in Panther athletics, which will be revealed the week of Aug. 5.
Women's basketball coach Patrick Daniel arrived on campus in late June last year, a time when students are already months into their summer break.
Daniel immediately began to immerse himself within the Pitt-Bradford community, quickly becoming one of the most visible figures in the athletics department amongst other campus faculty and staff. Students received a brief introduction to the department's newest coach at Midnight Madness, but scheduling would limit the number of home games the women's team played during the first semester-a four-point victory over Pitt-Greensburg the Saturday before finals started. They wouldn't play at home again until early January.
I often sneak in parts of teams' practices because I like to see the whole process. I can see the finished product at the end of the season, but really, one of the best parts of my job is seeing how it's shaped and refined, and then eventually, being able to share that story with others.
I had modest expectations for the women's team in 2012-13. The Panthers had to replace all five starters from the previous year and only featured only one upperclassman.
The women were extremely young and displayed the inconsistency of an inexperienced team throughout the first half of the season. Yet as I watched practice, I could see the potential. The players were buying into Daniel's vision. After a narrow defeat to two-time defending AMCC champion La Roche on the road in early January, the light finally went on for the young Panthers.
They ripped off wins over Franciscan and Hilbert, setting up a big game with Mount Aloysius on a cold Saturday afternoon in Bradford. The Mounties had dashed Pitt-Bradford's hopes of an AMCC tournament run the year before. They were more experienced and featured one of the best players in the league in Lindsey Sammarco.
It was just the third home game for the Panthers, but it would become a season-defining moment for Daniel and his players.
Staying consistent with a season-long trend, the women would quickly fall behind by double-digits in the first half. In the waning moments of the half, Alicia Kimmel and Carly Dalton would hit consecutive jumpers to trim the halftime deficit to six.
Mount Aloysius would spend the first nine minutes of the second half building its lead back up to 11 forcing Daniel to call timeout.
He challenged his players defensively. With such a green team, Daniel was aware from day one of practice that his team would be defined by its defensive prowess. It became the Panthers' calling card, but against the Mounties, they were straying from their identity. How would they respond?
Geena Sneeringer hit a layup on the ensuing possession, and moments later, Allison Osborne hit a long triple.
After two free throws, I looked up from inputting stats into the computer, and the Panthers were within four. I could feel the energy building at the scorer's table. My student-workers never relinquish in their faith. They are required by rule to remain neutral so all celebrating is non-existent or done subtlety to not catch the ire of the officials. They keep glancing at me. It almost seems they know something I don't.
But then Aloysius counters with a three-pointer, a potentially deflating shot for the young Panthers. However, Dalton would re-ignite the comeback with a three of her own. Kimmel followed with a putback jumper two possessions later. Seven minutes remaining, and it's a two-point ballgame.
Already in my head, the premise of my recap is starting to take shape. A win today would make it three straight victories and set up a huge showdown with Medaille later that week. A loss would set us back and could be devastating with both Medaille and Penn State Behrend on the horizon. Little did I know, the actual storyline had yet to be written.
The parents arrive before tipoff and always stay through the conclusion of the men's game. They pack the bleachers behind the home bench and are unwavering in their support. Students, on the other hand, file in throughout the course of the game, with most arriving in the final 10 minutes of the women's game to be there for the tip of the men's contest.
As the events are unfolding, the parents continue to create a groundswell of support, and the students join in chorus. Daniel, recognizing the moment, works the sideline and crowd like a showman. He bellows, "I need your help!" It sends the students into a frenzy. Chants of "defense" rain down on the visitors. I'm sitting no more than 15 feet from Mount Aloysius' coach, and her shouts of instruction are drowned out by the Panther supporters.
The Mounties are experienced, and they respond with a basket, but then Dalton hits another three making it a one-point ballgame. The KOA Arena erupts.
After an empty possession by the Mounties, Kimmel is fouled. She calmly hits her first attempt to tie the game at 59 but fails to connect on her second try.
The next two minutes would feature a series of free throws by both teams, the last by Dalton with 1:01 remaining to level the score at 63. The atmosphere is tense with both teams knowing the game can swing on a single play. I steal a few quick deep breaths, bracing myself for a final frantic minute.
And then the Mounties commit a critical turnover. Daniel alertly calls a timeout. The Panther reserves greet the five on the floor at half court. It's a celebratory moment, yet the players also stay in the moment, realizing they have a job left to do.
Out of the timeout, Dalton gets a good look at the basket. Parents and students hold their breath, tracking the flight of the ball. It's long. There's a quick gasp, and then Kimmel comes crashing in from the weak side, plucks the ball out of the air, and lays it in for the go-ahead basket. Twenty-one seconds remaining. 65-63 Pitt-Bradford.
The arena explodes in pandemonium. There's no time to celebrate for the players on the court though as the Mounties race back to the other end and force up a rushed shot. Abby Brate grabs the rebound and is immediately fouled. She sinks both free throws for her only two points of the day.
Sammarco misses a three, and Osborne hits one of two free throws. Sammarco's desperation heave at the buzzer is off. Game over. Panthers win 68-63.
It's the win Daniel has been seeking for his young team. The players pour onto the court, understanding the significance of their win. Daniel is gracious in victory, and parents and students shower the Panthers with praise.
I rush back to my office, close the door, and let out a primal roar. For the last two hours, I have had to keep the fanatical side of me in check. Not here. Not in the confines of my office.
The storyline from the Mount Aloysius game is that it was just the beginning. Two nights later, they would lose a heartbreaker on the road to Medaille, as a shot in the game's last seconds is ruled a two-pointer, handing Pitt-Bradford a gut-wrenching one-point loss. But the wheels had been set in motion. The Panthers would go 12-3 in their final 15 games of the regular season, setting a program record with 13 conference wins.
Daniel's "I need your help" catch-phrase would become a rallying cry around campus, sparking a T-shirt campaign. That shirt sits in my office to this day. It's a fixture on campus and around the community.
There's an uptick in home attendance. I start seeing new faces each game. The wins keep coming. Students begin to arrive sooner. The story continues to evolve with each victory.
The Panthers exceeded expectations in Daniel's first season. I witnessed the process firsthand, and it's moments like the Mount Aloysius game that make you appreciate it even more.