When Linda Caccavalla got the head coaching job at Perry Hall this season, the only thing she knew was that she was inheriting a 5-14 team.
Now she has a playoff team, and a large task ahead of her.
Last night, Caccavella's Gators (15-6) used a variety of zones and presses, and a deep bench to outlast visiting Mervo, 53-48, in a Class 4A North region quarterfinal.
The Mustangs rallied from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter, but ran out of gas.
Jessica Loehr led the Gators with 15 points. Mervo's Melisa Knox led all scorers with 17 points.
"We've stressed teamwork all year, and it paid off tonight," said Caccavalla.
"We didn't know anything about them when the game started, but we held on and made our shots when it counted."
The third-seeded Gators advance to tomorrow's 3:30 p.m. semifinal at second-seeded and third-ranked Lake Clifton.
"They're a city team, and we wanted to slow it down," said freshman Alyssa Phoebus, who scored 12 of the Gators' points and grabbed 22 rebounds.
"When we did, we played our game and that's why we won."
Perry Hall eventually built the lead to 49-32 with 3:51 left in the game, but Mervo (10-8) rallied.
Keyed by Knox's aggressive play, the Mustangs scored the next 13 points to cut the lead to 49-45 with 1:23 left.
After a Loehr basket gave the Gators a 51-45 lead, Mervo's Cheryl Evans hit a long three-pointer to cut the lead to 51-48 with 21 seconds left.
The Mustangs fouled Loehr, but she missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Knox rebounded the ball and drove the length of the court, but her three-pointer wouldn't fall, and Perry Hall ran out the clock.
"We're disappointed, we wanted to win," said Mervo coach Nancy Havranek.
"I told them during our last time out to give it their best, and they certainly did that."
Loehr, a senior, said Caccavalla has been the difference in the team.
"We've always had talent here," Loehr said. "She's just the only one who has put us together and made us play as a team."
Now the Gators face the unenviable task of traveling to Lake Clifton.
Caccavalla said she doesn't know much about the Lakers, but that might be an advantage.
"I'd rather play them, and not their reputation," said Caccavalla. "I don't know how they play, but I do know that any team can beat any other team on any given night."