It's been a gradual climb, forged in the furnace of the gymnasium and fueled by a succession of narrow victories.

The Vikings have a little swagger in their step these days, but that newfound confidence figured to get a severe test Monday night from Owen J. Roberts.

"We're learning to win," said PV coach Jim Genuardi. "We didn't get it done tonight in a high-intensity game, but we're getting closer."

Close wasn't nearly good enough for PV, which dropped a 61-54 decision to the high-powered Wildcats Monday.

OJR (15-2, 18-3 overall), which will face Spring-Ford (16-1) tonight with the PAC-10 regular season championship on the line, used a 12-0 run in the third quarter to gain control.

Although the Vikings got as close as 4, 52-48, with 2:55 left, the 'Cats executed their delay offense down the stretch and drained 10 of 15 free throws in the final quarter to slam the door shut on Perk Valley.

The loss leaves PV at 9-8, tied for fourth place with Phoenixville for the final spot in the circuit's season-ending Final Four tournament with one regular-season game remaining.

"Owen J. is a good team," said Genuardi. "I felt they picked up their defensive intensity in the third quarter and we didn't react to it. It took us out of our offensive mindset."

The Wildcats' mindset at intermission was to get Jon Michewicz involved, and the 6-foot-5 senior responded with nine points during the third quarter. He finished with 15 as Roberts also got double figures scoring from Chad Piersol (19) and Kevin Raab (10).

"Michewicz didn't play much in the first half because of foul trouble," said OJR coach Ted Snyder. "But he came out and made some big shots for us. We forced some turnovers in the third quarter and were able to convert some easy layups."

Those easy shots resulted from five PV turnovers and great work off the defensive glass. The Vikings also missed five of their eight attempts from the floor during that stretch, and failed to get a single second-chance opportunity after working the offensive boards to perfection in grabbing a 28-22 lead at intermission.

"What happened was, we tried to do it as individuals," said Genuardi. "We have to play as a group if we're going to be successful. We just got out of sync there."

Vikings forward Jeff Scholl never fell out of sync Monday, hitting 8 of 14 shots from the field, including three treys, to finish with a game-high 21 points. He stuffed 10 of those markers into the final quarter, but his efforts went up in smoke when Ryan Casey was whistled for an offensive foul and resulting technical with 2:08 remaining. Perk Valley, which was down just four at the time, was never able to regroup.

"We were up (6) at halftime, but I though we could have been up at least 10," said Genuardi. "That was one of our real problems. Then the technical came at a bad time. Ryan lost his cool there, and it hurt us."

Still, one loss can't dampen the remarkable turnaround the Vikings have made this season. Tonight, they host Pottstown while Phoenixville faces Pottsgrove. If both win, they will meet Wednesday in a one-game playoff for the last spot in the Final Four.

That, in itself, is an amazing rags to riches story.

"Perk Valley is quick and their big men jump well," said Snyder. "They've got a good team. They played us tough the first time around and tonight they gave us more than a tuneup."

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