CENTER VALLEY - Amy Zehner is accustomed to attracting defensive attention.
With Southern Lehigh's tall front line making points in the paint a tough commodity, the 5-10 Tamaqua senior took her game outside, where she found room to operate.
The Bucknell-bound Zehner got off to a torrid start, pouring in 13 of her game-high 29 points in the first quarter and propelling the Lady Raiders to a 51-43 victory Wednesday night in defense of their title of the Southern Lehigh Christmas Tournament.
The contest pitted two teams expected to contend in their respective leagues, as well as in the District 11 Class AAA field. Tamaqua, the defending Schuylkill League champion, remained undefeated at 7-0.
Zehner was a slam dunk for the tourney's Most Valuable Player award for the second straight season. She scored all of the Raiders' first period points, staking them to a 13-7 lead and putting the Colonial League Lady Spartans (5-2) in a catch-up mode.
She connected on 12 of 24 shots and pulled down 11 rebounds. She racked up 54 points and 24 caroms for the tournament.
The Raiders had to contend with a Solehi starting line-up that included 6-1 senior Jessica Reichl, 6-0 senior Hannah Doell and 6-1 junior Bridgette Dougherty, but Zehner canned 8 of her first 13 shots and had 19 points by half as the lead grew to 24-13.
"Amy's shot selection and shooting performances are always extremely good, and she made her shots at key times," said Tamaqua coach Joe Berezwick. "Our defense played very well, too. Southern Lehigh gave us some problems with their zone in the first half, but we played through it, and they went more with man to man in the second half.
"They were physical, they had the size advantage, but our kids played well. It was a solid win against a good, solid team."
Zehner shrugged off the aggressive play. At one point, she even drained a fade away jumper as a defender grabbed her jersey top.
"I tried to drive in a couple of times, but I got my shots blocked," related Zehner. "I adjusted to it. Why go inside when you are hitting shots outside? It was something to deal with, but I just tried to keep my composure, and I think we handled it well."
"We let one girl (Zehner) take over the game and beat us again. She did the same thing to us last year," said So. Lehigh coach Megan Dellegrotti. "We didn't have enough basketball sense out there and we gave her open shots. I wanted to make it difficult for her, but it was too easy for her at times."
The Spartans attempted to make a late run in the fourth quarter, ringing up 20 points, but the rest of the Raiders got into the scoring act, hit 8 of 12 free throws down the stretch to stave off the rally bid.
Cassie Eroh scored seven of her 11 points in the final frame and earned a spot on the All-Tourney team with Zehner, Dougherty and Doell and Leah Horton of Emmaus.
Dougherty finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds for Solehi while Shannon Sullivan added 12 points.
Tamaqua lost the JV game to Solehi, 36-33. Christine Streisel had 15 points for the junior Raiders (4-3).
The Raiders return to Schuylkill play Monday night when they host Pine Grove.
Hope 0-0-0-0, M. Streisel 0-3-4-3, C. Streisel 1-0-0-3, Eroh 3-5-6-11, Zehner 12-5-8-29, Updike 1-3-6-5. Totals: 17-16-24-51.
Dimou 0-1-2-1, Cerciello 2-0-0-4, Dougherty 6-1-2-13, Doell 3-0-1-6, Reichl 1-0-0-2, Nemeth 2-0-2-5, Sullivan 5-2-2-12. Totals: 19-4-9-43.
Tamaqua 13 11 11 16 - 51
So. Lehigh 7 6 8 20 - 43
Three-point goals: T-C. Streisel 1; SL-Nemeth 1.