ORWIGSBURG - The Tamaqua girls showed a side that they didn't have to show too much this season.
The Lady Raiders kept trying to throw the "knockout punch" at Palmerton on Wednesday night but wound up winning with a counter attack instead.
The Schuylkill League and defending district champs withstood every comeback attempt by the Lady Bombers (15-9) and punched their own ticket to the District 2A title game and another spot in the state playoffs with a 51-43 win at Blue Mountain High School.
Tamaqua (23-2) will now face Pen Argyl, a 47-38 winner over Pine Grove in the other semifinal, on Friday night at Jim Thorpe High School at 6 p.m.
"Every time I thought we took a step forward, they had an answer," said Tamaqua head coach Joe Berezwick afterwards. "They had us off balance the whole game. I thought our ball control at times was obviously something to be desired.
"We've been on a tear of late and Palmerton just brought us back down to earth. They wouldn't go away. They weren't intimidated and played really hard. I've got to give Don (Delich) credit. He had them ready. They played us right down to the last whistle."
Tamaqua built up its biggest lead of the game (30-18) on a Cassie Eroh layup with 4:32 left in the third quarter, but Kelsey Hay scored seven points and Kristen Romano made a bucket on a drive and before you knew it, Palmerton had it down to six at 33-27 entering the final eight minutes.
With 3:31 left in the game, Elissa Streisel sank a three-pointer for a 42-31 Tamaqua advantage that looked like it nailed the door shut.
"I remember our coaching staff saying there was the dagger," said Berezwick. "But she (Romano) came back and hit a couple in a row and they battled until the very end."
Back came the Lady Bombers, however.
Romano countered with a couple of three's, but Tamaqua wound up going to the free throw line and made one-of-two on three straight tries to still lead 47-40 with 39 seconds remaining.
Seven seconds later, Romano drains her third three-pointer of the quarter and all of a sudden Palmerton was within four.
Jen Snyder's driving layup with 20 seconds remaining off a steal didn't fall and the ball went back to the Lady Raiders.
Tamaqua kept passing the ball around until they found an open Zehner with 11 seconds to go and her layup put the game out of reach.
Amy Updike added two free throws with 1.1 seconds on the clock and the Lady Raiders were off to the district final for the second year in a row.
"We had it down to four," said Palmerton head coach Don Delich. "The kids played hard. I'm very proud of our effort.
"Casey (Rinfret) picking up her third foul with over six minutes left in the first half hurt us. They opened it up with a 10-2 run and we used a lot of energy.
"But we don't have any seniors and they've got a taste of this atmosphere which is pretty cool. Maybe with some hard work this summer, we'll get back to do this again next season."
Zehner finished the game with 20 points and 14 rebounds and Elissa Streisel added 13 for Tamaqua. Hay ended up with 17 points and eight rebounds, while Romano added 16 to help keep the Lady Bombers in the game.
The Lady Raiders have already tucked away the Schuylkill League title and have the District 11 title well within their grasp.
The Green Knights better be ready. They're going up against a well-oiled "Blue Machine" come Friday.
"We're very happy that we came away with the win," said Tamaqua guard Kayla Hope. "It wasn't one of our prettiest games. We knew they'd be coming at us, they got in foul trouble so we just had to keep our composure and play together and get the defensive stops."
Smith 0-0-0-0, Reimer 1-2-2-4, Romano 6-0-1-16, Rinfret 2-1-4-5, Farquhar 0-0-0-0, Snyder 0-1-2-1, Hay 6-5-7-17. TOTALS: 15-9-16-43.
Hope 2-1-3-5, Berezwick 0-0-0-0, M. Streisel 1-0-0-2, E. Streisel 4-3-6-13, Eroh 2-3-6-7, Zehner 9-2-4-20, Updike 1-2-4-4. TOTALS: 19-11-23-51.
Palmerton 10 6 11 16 - 43
Tamaqua 11 12 10 18 - 51
Three-Pointers: Palmerton - Romano 4; Tamaqua - E. Streisel 2.