POTTSVILLE - Amy Zehner knew it was time to make a move.
After being held in check for three quarters by Southern Lehigh's Hannah Doell and a box-and-one defense, the 5-10 Tamaqua senior, who averages 23 points per game, took the ball with the clock under two minutes and the Lady Raiders clinging to a two-point lead.
Zehner tapped the top of her head to signal to her teammates what was coming.
"That's top, clear-out," she explained afterward. "If it wasn't there for me, I was going to pass it off."
Zehner drove to the hoop, laying the ball up and in and getting fouled to complete a crucial three-point play that paved the way for Tamaqua's 48-38 victory in a District 11 Class AAA semifinal contest at Martz Hall Wednesday night.
The Raiders remained undefeated, improving to 26-0 and advancing to the District title game for the third straight season.
Tamaqua, the two-time defending 11-AA champion, will now shoot for the AAA crown against 11-time defending champ Allentown Central Catholic on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at Parkland High School. The top-seeded Vikettes defeated fourth-seeded Palmerton 47-31 in the other AAA semifinal.
The Schuylkill League champion Raiders, seeded second, had knocked off the third-seeded Lady Spartans (21-5), the Colonial League champs, by a 51-43 count to win So. Lehigh's Christmas Tournament on Dec. 29. Zehner torched Solehi for 29 points in that game, winning Most Valuable Player honors.
This time, the Spartans put Doell, a 6-0 senior, on the Bucknell-bound Zehner, who finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
"Hannah is an excellent defensive player, and she took it upon herself to shut Zehner down," said Solehi coach Megan Dellegrotti.
Tamaqua has other weapons, however. Sophomore Maria Streisel scored the first six points of the game, then hit 3-for-4 from the foul line in the fourth quarter en route to a team-high 13 points.
Seniors Cassie Eroh (nine points, eight rebounds) and Allison Updike (eight points, including a fourth period triple, and eight boards) came up with big plays when needed. Junior Kayla Hope chipped in with six points and hounded guard Eleni Dimou all over the court.
"Give credit to Southern Lehigh for taking Amy away from us, but give our other kids credit for stepping up," said Tamaqua coach Joe Berezwick.
In what was a game of runs, the Raiders blew out to a 22-6 lead with 5:44 left before half, holding the Spartans scoreless for almost six minutes at one stretch.
Solehi closed the half with a 12-4 run, with Doell rimming eight, to cut the deficit to 26-18 at half.
The Spartans continued to chip away and closed within two at 32-30 after three, but the Raiders answered by running off the first six of the fourth quarter on Updike's triple, Zehner's driving deuce and Streisel's foul shot to push it back to eight at 38-30.
Two buckets by 6-1 junior Bridgette Dougherty and a breakaway hoop from Dimou cut it back to 38-36 with 2:52 remaining.
That's when Zehner's three-point play with 1:44 left gave the Raiders a 41-36 edge.
"They built their whole game around me and made it tough for me, so I was thinking we needed a big play and I did the best I could to get it," stated Zehner.
With the Spartans forced to foul after that, the Raiders hit 7-for-9 from the stripe (14-for-18 for the game) to seal the trip to the finals.
"Our defense was key early and we really pulled together defensively and made our free throws down the stretch," noted Berezwick.
The Spartans were led by Doell's 12 points.
Final stats had Tamaqua shooting 16 for 42 (38 percent) to Solehi's 15-for-48 (31 percent). Raiders had 31-30 rebounding edge and committed 10 turnovers to 12 for the Spartans, who had six in the fourth quarter.
Dimou 3-1-2-8, Nemeth 2-0-0-5, Sullivan 0-0-0-0, Cerciello 0-1-2-1, Arnold 0-0-0-0, Dougherty 5-0-0-10, Amory 0-2-2-2, Doell 5-1-2-12. TOTALS: 15-5-8-38.
Hope 1-4-4-6, M. Streisel 5-3-4-13, C. Streisel 0-0-0-0, Eroh 3-2-4-9, Zehner 4-4-4-12, Updike 3-1-2-8, Wallace 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 16-14-18-48.
So. Lehigh 6 12 12 8 - 38
Tamaqua 15 11 6 16 - 48
Three-point goals: SL-Dimou 1, Nemeth 1, Doell 1; T-Eroh 1, Updike 1.