Pocono Mountain West interim head coach Chrissy Campos knew this year’s roster could contend.
In fact, she and younger sister and then-head coach Stacy Perryman both saw that.
Now, the Panthers are proving it and head to the District 11 Class 6A girls basketball semifinal round vs. No. 2 Freedom at Catasauqua High School at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
The confidence Campos has in her players is unparalleled, and with good reason.
“I tell them all the time that if we stick to our game plan and play the way I know we can play, we’re just as good as any other team that’s left in this district,” Campos said Monday. “We’ll take it one game at a time, but (a) district championship is not far-fetched.”
Sixth-seeded Pocono Mountain West (15-8) used a gritty late performance to earn a 42-40 win over No. 3 Northampton in the quarterfinal round on Friday night. That victory avenged a 50-32 loss to the Konkrete Kids on Jan. 14.
Pocono West hopes it has one more redemption game left in it.
On Jan. 11, Pocono West fell 51-38 to Freedom.
The physical, aggressive defensive effort shown against Northampton this time around was no accident. Pocono West has relied on its defense to win six of its last eight games.
The problem the Panthers face is their offense can sometimes wear them out too quickly.
“Our bread and butter has always been we’re a run-and-gun team,” Campos said. “We like to get out and run and run teams, but on the other end, running sometimes tires us out a little bit and we get lackadaisical and a little sloppy and we don’t get back on defense.
“Our transition defense has to get better as we get further and further into these playoffs as teams are going to get better and teams are going to run.”
Pocono West is loaded with seniors this year. But its statistical star has been 5-foot-10 freshman forward Vatijah Darby, who is averaging a team-best 8.7 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game.
Against Northampton, Darby netted each of the Panthers’ critical last four points after a steal from teammate Caroline Weirich and ripping one away herself on the Kids’ next possession.
Campos noted how nervous Darby was ahead of the contest and just reminded her to go out there and play through the jitters.
“I think throughout the year, we’ve made her feel like she belongs there,” Campos said. “She’s not just thrown there for another body or anything like that. She deserves to be on the floor.”
Just behind Darby is AiyanaLee Owens with 8.6 ppg and 6.6 rpg. Both will be important factors on Tuesday night.
In January, only four Freedom players registered points, but all four ended in double figures, led by Kailey Turpening’s 18 points.
Campos is comfortable with her team’s offense heading into Catasauqua this time but wants to see her Panthers defend more wisely against Turpening and Jennifer Kololus, who scored 13 points for the Patriots against West.
“They’re kind of like that dish-and-drive kind of team, kind of like what we are sometimes,” Campos said. “There’s a couple of guards but Turpening and Kololus, they’re girls that we have to know where they are on the court.”
The winner of Tuesday’s contest will advance to Friday night’s district title game and face the winner of the second semifinal game between No. 1 Nazareth and No. 5 Parkland. The losing teams on Tuesday will battle each other to determine the third and fourth seeds for the PIAA Class 6A state tournament.
The first round of states begins March 6.