Pine Valley's storybook season did not have the desired ending Friday night.
Despite a late rally, the Lady Panthers were defeated by Mount St. Ursala of the Bronx, 50-36, in the Class D semifinals of New York State Federation Tournament at the Civic Center.
The Bears (25-5), the Catholic state champion, will meet Independent Long Island Lutheran (23-4) for the overall state title today at 2 p.m.
Pine Valley (26-2) was seeking its third Federation title in five years, but will have to settle for being a three-time state public school champion.
Considering the odds his team faced this season, coach Tim Nobles will certainly take that.
"To win a state championship one week then you end up on a losing note is tough," he said. "But this is one of the easiest losses to take just because we've come so far. We weren't expected to come this far."
After losing seven seniors, including four starters, Pine Valley wasn't even expected to survive Section VI play. But the Lady Panthers ignored those predictions.
"It's difficult to end my career with a loss, but it is satisfying to know that getting here means you have done something really good," said senior forward Tara Ruckh, who finished with team-highs of 13 points and 9 rebounds. "Even though we lost, you still have to get it in your head that we are the only Class D public school to get this far."
The killer for the Lady Panthers came in the third quarter when Mount St. Ursala went on a 9-0 run in the first four minutes to take a commanding 37-14 lead.
Rebounding was huge factor. Mount St. Ursala held a 41-28 edge on the boards as 5-foot-10 Jennifer Coss (16 points, 12 rebounds), 6-1 Marlo Thomas (12 rebounds) and 5-10 Dianne Marchado (10 rebounds) dominated inside against the smaller Lady Panthers.
Pine Valley almost fought its way back in the game. Ruckh and 6-foot freshman center Nikki Smith (11 points, 7 rebounds) keyed a 20-7 run that cut the Bears' lead to 44-36 with 4:29 to play, but the cold-shooting Lady Panthers (28.6 percent for the game) did not score again.