ALLENTOWN - For the second straight year the Northern Lehigh girls' basketball team found itself one win away from a district title.
And for the second straight year, the Lady Bulldogs will go home empty handed.
A combination of turnovers and not being able to knock down shots doomed Northern Lehigh, as it fell to the Cardinals of Pine Grove 41-31 in the District 11 AA championship game at William Allen Friday night. The Bulldogs turned the ball over nine times in the first quarter and ended up with 21 on the night. When they did get a chance to shoot, none of them seemed to fall until the game was all but over.
"Tonight Pine Grove was the better team," said Northern Lehigh head coach Dave Oertner. "On a different night different things could happen, but they were the better team tonight.
"I am hoping to get another chance to play these guys down the road. Every team we have lost to we have beaten this year. We lost to Southern Lehigh - we beat them once. We lost to Palmerton - we beat them twice. We lost to Bangor - we beat them twice. I think we are a good team, we just have limited options. That's one of our weaknesses."
Things didn't start out well for Northern Lehigh (22-4) as it turned the ball over nine times in the opening frame. The Bulldogs were able to score on their first possession of the night on an Aimee Oertner lay-up, however they didn't score again for a couple of minutes as Pine Grove (21-4) went on a 7-0 run. Lauren Oertner ended the run with a bucket, but the Cardinals managed to go on another 5-0 run to end the quarter thanks to some more Bulldog turnovers.
Northern Lehigh was able to put together a 7-0 run of its own in the second quarter to draw to within three (16-13), but Pine Grove answered again. The Cardinals went on a 9-2 run in the last 3:30 of the first half and went into the break up ten.
The third quarter was not for the faint of heart as the two teams combined to score only five points in eight minutes. The first bucket for either team came at the 3:15 mark when Northern Lehigh's Kristi Seiler converted on a lay-up.
Pine Grove was very patient on offense to say the least and it showed with its one point. Still, the Bulldogs were unable to make up much ground and scored just one more bucket the rest of the quarter.
Down seven heading into the final frame, the Bulldogs were forced to pick up their play - which is something that doesn't suit their style of play. Due to Aimee Oertner (ankle) and Christina Bastardi (elbow) being banged up, it was hard for Northern Lehigh to apply any pressure in the full court. In the end the Cardinals went 9-for-15 from the free-throw line to preserve the win.
"We fell behind early and we don't come back very well," said Oertner. "And with Aimee (Oertner) hurt there was no way we could press them. That's why with three minutes to go I already decided to foul (Pine Grove).
"No one could shoot the ball. No one could hit a shot. We played better after the first quarter, but we couldn't shoot the ball. Sonya (Josephson) usually knocks a bunch of shots down but she couldn't hit anything. It happens. It has just happened too many times to us."
Aimee Oertner did all she could and finished with a double-double. She scored 17 points, grabbed ten rebounds, made three steals and swatted two shots. Josephson, the Bulldogs' second leading scorer at around 15 points-per-game, finished with eight after scoring just two points in the first three quarters.
Northern Lehigh has played in three championship games (two district, one league) over the last three years and has no fallen in all three. While it may be the toughest one of them all, the Bulldogs still have a shot at one more title this year - the state title. They won't know their opponent until Saturday night, but Oertner believes his team will have a chance to win no matter who they end up playing.
"I told the girls that we are legitimate," said Oertner. "We have a legitimate chance, but now we have to win four or five more games. We are good enough to do it. We can beat anybody out there on any given night. I honestly believe that.
"Tonight we aren't beating many, but we can play with anybody. The question is are we going to get in foul trouble? Is it going to be an ugly shooting night like tonight? We have the talent. It's just the matter of being able to do it for a whole game."
Nagle 0-0-0-0, Thompson 1-0-0-2, Evans 2-4-11-8, S. Zimmerman 3-1-2-7, Dimon 0-0-0-0, Kimmel 1-0-0-2, Ryan 5-5-6-18, Bertasavage 1-0-0-2, Anderson 0-2-2-2. TOTALS: 13-12-21-41.
Bastardi 0-0-0-0, L. Oertner 2-0-0-4, A. Oertner 7-2-2-17, Josephson 3-2-2-8, Seiler 1-0-0-2, Follweiler 0-0-0-0, Stauffer 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 13-4-4-31.
Pine Grove 11 14 1 15 - 41
No. Lehigh 4 11 4 12 - 31
Three-Pointers: Pine Grove - Ryan 3; No. Lehigh - A. Oertner 1.