DALLAS — The full-court inbounds pass was originally supposed to be targeted for someone else.
But on a night when most of the game was in Kirsten Durling’s hands, it almost seemed natural the final points would fall there, too.
Quite fittingly, Durling deposited that long pass for a layup and the last of her season-high 22 points with five seconds to play Monday, punctuating Pittston Area’s 56-50 victory over relentless Dallas in a battle between two girls basketball teams trying to stay tied for first place in the Wyoming Valley Conference Division 1.
“I think we deserve to be one of the best,” Durling said. “We work for it.”
Nobody’s worked harder than Durling.
The junior guard hustled her way into Pittston Area’s starting lineup just last week, and hasn’t taken much of a break since.
Then she went out and broke Dallas’ back.
Durling scored six of the game’s first eight points, then added another basket in the opening quarter to give the Patriots a double-digit lead.
And the Mountaineers never recovered.
“Kirsten really is a hidden gem,” said Pittston Area coach Kathy Healey, whose team improved to 9-3 overall and stayed even with Hazleton Area at 5-1 in Division 1 play. “She’s very good. She’s just starting to break out and is starting to have confidence in herself.”
Durling was hardly done shining after a quarter.
She scored six points in the second quarter, including a bucket that gave the Patriots a 29-15 lead. She scored one of just three Pittston Area baskets in the third quarter to help keep the Mountaineers at arm’s length.
Then came a frantic and furious fourth quarter, where Durling hit one layup with under five minutes to play to give the Patriots a seven-point lead, before hitting another to ice the game with five seconds on the clock.
That last one featured strong-armed Taryn Ashby — the daughter of former major league pitcher Andy Ashby — heaving a full-court inbounds pass which hit Durling in stride and led right to the layup that doused Dallas’ remaining comeback hopes.
“We spend about 10 minutes every practice working on that play,” Durling said.
Only, she’s rarely the shooter.
“Usually Alexa (Noone),” Durling said. “I don’t know what changed coach’s mind. But it worked out.”
The Patriots didn’t really decide on who would make the long toss until Ashby volunteered.
“Taryn’s a gamer. She wants to win,” Healey said. “She said, ‘Give me the ball, I’ll throw it.’ We thought she (Durling) might be a little bit quicker. We told her she had to fly out of there, and she did. Taryn made a great pass.”
That pretty much wrapped up a game the Patriots thought they had in hand a couple times before.
But Dallas just wouldn’t go away.
The Mountaineers cut a 14-point deficit in the second quarter down to eight by halftime, then closed within three points on a 3-point field goal by Courtney Hoats two minutes into the third quarter.
“I give the kids a lot of credit for their heart and their hustle and their determination down the stretch,” said Dallas coach Kelly Johnson, whose team fell to 4-2 and into second place in Division 1. “We came up a little short.”
Not by much.
Nikki Wren, who finished with a team-high 17 points, brought Dallas within three points with a pair of free throws early in the fourth quarter, then consecutive 3-pointers from Sara Lojewski and Olivia Johnson brought Dallas within 50-47 with 44 seconds to play.
And when Hanna Johnson drilled another trey with 23 seconds to play, the Mountaineers were two points away from tying it.
“We knew we were in a three-way tie for first place,” Kelly Johnson said. “We knew it would be a battle.”
But Pittston Area stayed ahead of the charge, as Megan Cummings canned a couple of foul shots and Durling sewed up the six-point victory with that layup off Ashby’s long outlet.
“I just knew we had to come in here, play hard,” Durling said. “I knew they were out to get us. That inspired me to work as hard as I can. We knew we had to step up. I feel like this is the one. It was great.”
Pittston Area 56, Dallas 50
Pittston Area (56) — Kirsten Durling 11 0-0 22, Jamie Chisdock 1 0-0 2, Megan Cummings 1 4-4 6, Marley O’Brien 2 0-0 4, Taryn Ashby 4 5-7 13, Alexa Noone 4 0-0 9, Rachel Ferrance 0 0-0 0, Mary Silinskie 0 0-0 0. Totals 23 9-11 56.
Dallas (50) — Kendra Saba 0 1-2 1, Maddie Kelley 5 1-4 12, Sara Lojewski 3 0-0 7, Courtney Hoats 2 0-0 5, Nikki Wren 4 9-13 17, Hanna Johnson 1 0-0 3, Olivia Johnson 2 0-0 5. Totals 17 11-19 50.
Three-point goals — PA 1 (Noone); DAL 5 (Kelley 1, Hoats 1, Lojewski 1, O. Johnson 1, H. Johnson 1).
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski