JIM THORPE - Cassie Eroh was a new addition to Tamaqua's starting five this season as the Lady Raiders started in defense of their District 11 Class AA crown.
The 5-8 junior entered Friday night's D-11 AA final against Pen Argyl as the Raiders' second leading scorer, averaging 9.7 points per game, behind Amy Zehner's 21.5.
In a defensive battle, Eroh provided a spark on both ends of the floor as Tamaqua pulled away for it second straight District title, downing the Green Knights 45-31.
The top-seeded Raiders (24-2) have advanced to the PIAA State playoffs for the second year in a row and will next face the District 4 number three team - the winner of today's Mount Carmel-Troy game - in the opening round next Friday.
Eroh connected for eight of her team-high 16 points in the fourth quarter, with most of them coming on the baseline as third-seeded Pen Argyl (18-9) tried to awaken its offense for a rally bid.
On the defensive side, Eroh's assignment was to keep Pen Argyl guard Megan Zanette from heating up on the perimeter. She ended up holding the Knights' senior to a lone bucket.
"It feels great," said Eroh. "We just had to do what we had to do. We kept the pressure up. My team gave me the ball when I was open and I put it in the basket. This was a big win."
When the season began, Tamaqua coach Joe Berezwick had Eroh playing underneath as a forward, but by the end of December had flip-flopped her with junior Allie Updike to take advantage of Eroh's soft shooting touch and Updike's athleticism around the hoop. Not only has it freed up Eroh on the outside, but Updike has become a force on the boards and pulled down 10 against the Knights.
"Cassie's game tonight was big," praised Berezwick. "On defense, we told her not to let (Zanette) score and she did that. On the offensive end, she did an outstanding job of getting open underneath the basket and getting some clutch baskets when the game was still in question, as well as hitting some free throws to help seal this win."
"Cassie is like the forgotten one out there (by defenses), but once we get going they don't know what to do and who to stop when she's open," said Zehner.
The 5-11 Zehner worked well with Eroh inside, dishing the ball when the Knights focused on her. Zehner still managed a double-double, as she pumped in 14 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. She also added four blocks and three steals.
"They were trying to pressure me, especially with (Sara Vough), so I just looked for the open person," added Zehner. "I don't care about points. I just want to get the win."
"Amy is an all-out player and she'll do whatever it takes to win," said Berezwick. "Tonight was a perfect example. If she had an opportunity to make a big play, she made it. If she saw teammates open, she was unselfish enough to distribute the ball.
"With her rebounding, defense and presence on the floor, you can't measure what it means to have a player like that."
Zehner connected for seven points as Tamaqua led 11-5 after one quarter.
In the second stanza Eroh hit for four points as the lead grew to 22-12 at the half.
The Raiders still led 38-24 with 2:58 remaining, but the Knights' Laura Cinelli hit a pair of long range triples to slice the deficit to 38-30 with 1:39 to go.
Streisel then dashed the rally by driving to the bucket for a three-point play with 1:33 left. Streisel and Updike each then sank a pair of foul shots to ice the win and the district title.
"That was a big shot by Elissa, because they felt they still had some life left," stated Berezwick. "Elissa's been making clutch plays like that all year, along with all the other stuff she does with her experience out there.".
Cinelli topped the Knights with 16 points.
The victory marked the first time the Lady Raiders have won back-to-back district hoop titles since the 1977 and 1978 seasons.
"All those years we hoped to have this opportunity," said Berezwick. "I'm just blessed and thankful to have this team, these players and coaches I have, as well as the community spirit. It's really an honor to win this again."
Zanette 1-0-0-2, Vough 1-1-4-4, Young 1-1-2-3, Ashworth 2-1-2-6, Cinelli 7-0-2-16, Firestone 0-0-2-0, Clause 0-0-0-0, Waberski 0-0-0-0, Beckage 0-0-0-0, Mar. Oyer 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 12-3-12-31.
Hope 1-0-2-2, Berezwick 0-0-0-0, M. Streisel 0-0-0-0, E. Streisel 3-3-5-9, Eroh 6-4-4-16, Zehner 5-4-5-14, Updike 1-2-2-4. TOTALS: 16-13-18-45.
Pen Argyl 5 7 7 12 - 31
Tamaqua 11 11 6 17 - 45
Three-pointers: PA-Cinelli 2, Vough 1, Ashworth 1; T-none.