Rob Kovac remembers all too well what happened last season when his Jim Thorpe girls' basketball team faced Pine Grove at home.
"A year ago we played Pine Grove here right before Christmas and it was over by halftime," Kovac said.
Last night, Kovac, as well as those in attendance inside the Jim Thorpe High School gymnasium, watched an entirely different Schuylkill League Division 1 showdown.
Rather than witnessing a 30-point blowout like a year ago, this meeting between the Olympians and Cardinals produced four ties and 13 lead changes.
It was the Cardinals however, who were able to hold onto the last lead and cash in for a 52-45 Schuylkill League victory.
"We went toe-to-toe with them all night," Kovac said. "It was run for run. I told our kids that we can be a little disappointed about the loss but not feel ashamed. We have come a long way.
"We came out and played a really good basketball game against a really good team."
The Olympians (10-3, 3-2) presented a challenge right from the get-go as they were able to jump out to an early 7-0 lead. Celeste Robinson hit a driving right-handed lay-up, Chelsea Smelas hit a running jumper and Kristin Lawrence drained a three-pointer from beyond the arc to initiate the game's first run.
Pine Grove answered, forcing three ties and three lead changes before the opening quarter ended with the hosts leading 15-13.
In the second quarter, Robinson and Smelas helped the Olympians build as much as a seven-point lead again. That was before Becky Evans and Shannon Zimmerman aided a comeback that regained the lead for the Cardinals. But Smelas hit a driving layup to give the Olympians a 26-25 lead entering halftime.
The Cardinals put together a 13-0 run to take a 42-30 lead midway through the third quarter.
But behind Smelas and Robinson, the Olympians answered with a 13-point run of their own to take a 43-42 lead with 4:09 left in the game.
That would be the last lead the Olympians would see the rest of the night, however, as Kalene Anderson and Company took over.
The Cardinals (10-2, 3-2) used the strength of their inside game to take charge as six of their final eight points came off second chance opportunities in the paint.
"To me, the difference was they just killed us on the glass down the stretch," said Kovac, whose team was out-rebounded 16-6 in the final frame. "I thought we defended pretty well the entire game but we didn't do so well the last four minutes. They had second, third and four shots on almost every trip down the court."
Cardinals' head coach Chris George was impressed with the Olympians.
"That's a talented team right there," George said. "Some of the things they did really gave us trouble. It's not just one player and I think that's the key thing for them. Robinson is a good player. But, they also have a couple of other girls that can shoot. If you focus too much on her (Robinson), they're going to make you pay around the bucket. So, we were forced to adjust a few things."
Smith 0-0-0-0, Nagle 0-0-0-0, Thompson 1-0-0-2, Evans 2-6-8-11, S. Zimmerman 3-2-2-8, Geiger 0-0-0-0, Kimmel 4-0-0-8, Ryan 1-2-3-5, Bertasavage 0-0-0-0, Anderson 8-2-4-18. TOTALS: 19-12-17-52.
McElmoyle 1-0-0-2, Batts 0-0-0-0, Lawrence 2-0-0-6, Holland 1-0-1-2, Robinson 7-4-8-18, Mosteller 0-0-0-0, Smelas 8-1-2-17. TOTALS: 19-5-11-45.
Pine Grove 13 12 17 10 - 52
Jim Thorpe 15 11 10 9 - 45
Three-pointer: PG - Evans 1, Ryan 1; JT - Lawrence 2.