100 Years, 100 Stories
This story was originally published in the Kansas City Star. The story featured Coach Fred Pohlman (MCC-Penn Valley’s gymnasium namesake) reflecting on the NJCAA Division II tournament win.
Underdog Penn Valley turns out to be giant
Paul Coro, The Kansas City Star, March 25, 1996, C3
Turns out nobody could match up with Penn Valley. The Scouts, the only unranked quarterfinalist, walked away with the school’s first athletic national title Saturday when it beat No. 1 Kishwaukee, Ill., 93-88.
“I don’t think anybody, even some of our kids, thought we’d go to the national tournament,” said Pohlman, who started Penn Valley athletics with men’s basketball 29 years ago.
Certainly, nobody would have picked this team to travel uncharted waters around Christmas, when the sharks were having their way with an 8-7 Scouts team. Penn Valley, which finished 25-11, even ended the regular season with two straight losses before running off six postseason victories.
The three national tournament victories came by a total of 10 points. The first injected belief into Penn Valley.
In that quarterfinal Thursday, Central College of McPherson, Kan., tied the game 70-70 on a long three-pointer with 6 seconds remaining. Rolando Pitts, a sophomore from Southwest High who was the tournament’s most valuable player, darted back down court and hit a 15-foot game-winner as the buzzer sounded.
“Oh my goodness, that really pumped us up,” said Penn Valley freshman John Taylor, a product of Center High. “After we got that first game out of the way, we knew we could win the whole tournament.
Everybody was sleeping on us. ” Penn Valley ‘s defensive intensity was its key throughout the postseason, but it made the biggest impact when the high-scoring Scouts played to a slower pace with No. 2 Owens Community College , 31-3 and from Toledo, Ohio, and won 60-57.
By then, the small team with the mediocre record and fun pace was officially adopted by the Danville locals despite Kishwaukee hailing from Illinois.
Kishwaukee, 33-2, committed to pressing Penn Valley all game, making a star out of the trap-breaking Pitts. He finished with 18 points, including nine of 10 free throws, and 11 assists.
After Kishwaukee went on an 11-0 run, tying the game 57-57 with 12:10 remaining, Penn Valley freshman Steve Ray nailed two three-pointers and Pitts added another within 50 seconds left for a nine-point lead. The Scouts’ lead never went below four again.
With sophomore Chris Harris hitting 11 of 16 shots for a team-high 22 points, the Scouts shot 60 percent from the field. They made nine of 15 three-pointers.
Pohlman said this may challenge as his top moment, but the team five years ago that won Penn Valley ‘s first region title in 25 years has a special place, too. The Scouts finished third that year and fifth the following year with as many losses combined as this team had in a championship season.
“This one was totally unexpected,” said Pohlman, who is 542-371-1 in 29 junior-college seasons. “I knew we’d play well though because we always do in big games. ” Of the 10 Scouts who played Saturday, only Pitts, Harris and Duane West leave. Seven of the 10 were recruited from the Kansas City area.
“It hasn’t hit us yet,” said Taylor, who hit four of five three-point tries in the title game and scored 16. “It was more rewarding for Coach. He’s been working so long for this that we were more happy to win it for him. ”