CATASAUQUA – Northern Lehigh had the lead, the ball and the momentum. The Bulldogs were less than four minutes away from their 10th straight victory and a berth in the District 11 Class AAA semifinals.
All Northern Lehigh needed was a closer. What it got was a version of the Phillies' Brad Lidge in 2009.
The result was 10th-seeded Saucon Valley rallying to upset the second-seeded Bulldogs, 50-44.
"I thought it was over," said Northern Lehigh coach Rich Oertner. "We were up five, had Jordan [Waylen] on the foul line, we were playing strong defense, and we were doing a nice job of handling the basketball."
The situation Oertner referred to came with under four minutes left in the game and the Bulldogs ahead 41-36. At that point, the Panthers had gone over six minutes without a point, Northern Lehigh had still not committed a single turnover in the game, and Waylen had made his two previous free throws.
"I definitely thought our chances of winning were in peril at that point," said Saucon Valley coach Matt Brown. "I've coached against Rich [Oertner] long enough to know when they are in that situation they're going to hold the ball and shorten the game and that's what they were doing.
"We're not very quick defensively so we were trying to figure out on the bench what we could do to get the ball back. We were already getting into to our [intentional] fouling mode with four or five minutes left."
But in a stretch of just 90 seconds, the game changed dramatically.
After Waylen missed his free throws attempts, the Panthers' Eric Frans got open on the baseline and turned it into a three-point play. The Bulldogs followed with their initial turnovers of the game and Saucon reserve Andrew Remaley, who hadn't scored a point in the contest, answered both miscues with three-point bombs.
Suddenly, with just 2:10 remaining, the Panthers were leading 45-41.
"Fundamentally we just didn't play very good basketball the last four minutes," said Oertner. "We had a number of miscues on defense where we didn't know who we were guarding and we had some panic possessions on offense. We just made mistakes we don't normally make."
Despite shooting just 6-for-16 from the foul line in the final four minutes, including missing the front end of three one-and-ones, Saucon Valley gradually increased its advantage to 48-41.
Bobby Hahn's three-pointer with :16 left ended a dryspell of nearly six minutes for Northern Lehigh, but it never got any closer.
John Clark had 16 points and Frans finished with 15 points for Saucon Valley (12-12), which will face Allentown Central Catholic in Tuesday's semifinals.
Waylen had 13 points for the Bulldogs (19-6). Hahn added nine points. Evan Biegley and Nick Pappas both had eight points with Pappas also grabbing seven rebounds.
"You're never happy after a loss, but it's been a great season," said Oertner. "These kids have really overachieved. We not only won five or six more games than I thought we would, but we won a Colonial League championship."
Reitz 2-0-0-4, Frans 7-1-3-15, Okken 0-3-8-3, Clark 4-7-8-16, Mosher 2-1-2-6, Remaley 2-0-0-6, Kowalski0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 17-12-23-50.
Seremula 3-0-2-6, Hahn 4-0-0-9, Glose 0-0-0-0, Waylen 4-2-4-13, Malaska 0-0-0-0, Biegley 2-4-4-8, Johnson 0-0-0-0, Pappas 4-0-2-8. TOTALS: 17-6-12-44.
Saucon Vy. 14 13 9 14 - 50
No. Lehigh 12 16 11 5 - 44
Three-pointers: SV – Remaley 2, Clark 1 Mosher 1. NL – Waylen 3, Hahn 1.