The game plan for the Lehighton girls' basketball team was simple heading into Tuesday night's contest at Pleasant Valley.
Win and the Lady Indians would qualify for the District 11 playoffs. But while it was that easy on paper, the Lady Bears didn't make it that easy on the court.
Megan Hardy connected on two free throws with 21 seconds left in overtime and helped her Bears defeat Lehighton, 50-48 in Mountain Valley Conference play. Free throws turned out to be the difference in the game. The Bears converted on nine of their 13 attempts, whereas the Indians made just five-of-17.
"Last time we played Lehighton we got within two points nine different times," said Pleasant Valley head coach Nadia Gauronsky. "But we were atrocious from the foul line and after the game that is all I kept talking about.
"Tonight we were much better. I think we did a lot of things better tonight."
On the flip side, it didn't take long for Lehighton head coach Tony Thomas to point out where and how his Indians lost the game.
"Free throws were the difference," said Thomas bluntly. "If we can't hit free throws then we can't move forward. I've said that many times. I've told the girls games are won and lost with free throws many, many times and it just goes to show you. If we hit even half of our attempts this game doesn't even go into overtime."
Lehighton (9-9, 5-5) had things go its way at the end of regulation, but couldn't seal the deal.
A Hardy three-point play put the Bears up two with 1:30 to go. Then, with about eight seconds left, teammate Michelle Mowery missed the front end of a one-and-one and gave the Indians hope. Jordyn Homyak took the ball, raced down court and hit a running lay-up with three seconds left to tie the game at 44.
Perhaps getting ahead of themselves, the Bears stepped over the line as they were inbounding and gave the Indians the ball under their own hoop with .4 seconds remaining. Kenzie Teno took the inbound pass and tossed it up as quickly as possible, but put it too hard off the backboard.
After scoring 31 points against the Bears in their first meeting, Homyak finished with a game high 24 points Tuesday. Karista Schweizer chipped in with 10, but hit three big shots in the fourth quarter and overtime to keep the Indians tied.
"Jordyn is going to get her points," said Gauronsky. "She is one of the best players in the league, if not the best in my opinion. The only thing you can do is try to contain her and make her do things she isn't comfortable doing. I think we did some of that tonight."
Pleasant Valley was led by Kasey Meckes and her 14 points. Also helping out were Dalion Salmon and Hardy, who each scored nine apiece.
Although the Bears are just 5-13 (3-6) on the season, Gauronsky is happy with the way her girls are finally coming together and progressing as a team.
"The kids have been working really hard," said Gauronsky. "It is nice that they are finally coming together. When they are so young at the beginning of the year, a lot of people just look at the record and think we aren't going to amount to anything.
"Every game we have seen improvements. When you are young and not very talented, you try to do the little things right. And that's what we have been focusing on as of late."
As for the Indians, they now find themselves behind the eight-ball. Needing either two overall wins or one league win to qualify for the playoffs, Lehighton will play league foes East Stroudsburg South and Pocono Mountain West (both of whom the Indians lost to) and non-league foes Tri-Valley and Tamaqua (whom are at the top of the Schuylkill League).
"We have to move on quickly," confirmed Thomas. "Give Pleasant Valley credit. This has always been a tough place for us to play. But we just have to re-group.
"We have two practices and then we play South. The nice thing about our last two league games is that they are both at home. I think it gives us a little advantage, but they are two tough teams. At the same time, we are going to be ready and we will be prepared."
Homyak 9-3-4-24, McCullion 0-0-0-0, Schweizer 5-0-2-10, Teno 1-0-4-2, White 3-2-5-8, Rimbey 2-0-2-4, Smith 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 20-5-17-48.
Meckes 6-2-3-14, Chieffo 2-0-0-5, Harris 1-2-2-4, Hardy 3-3-3-9, Salmon 4-1-2-9, Mowery 3-0-1-6, Kregeloh 0-1-2-1, Fields 1-0-0-2. TOTALS: 20-9-13-50.
Lehighton 15 10 10 9 4 - 48
Pleasant Vy 15 9 8 12 6 - 50
Three-Pointers: L - Homyak 3; PV - Chieffo.