Tonight, the Tamaqua girls basketball team finds itself back in a familiar position.
For the third consecutive year, the Lady Raiders have advanced into the second round of the PIAA State tournament, and for the third straight season, their opponent hails from District 3.
After losing back-to-back second round games to Delone Catholic (in Class AA) the previous two years, Tamaqua will have an opportunity to reverse its fortunes and extend its undefeated season against District 3 champion Oley Valley tonight at Hamburg high school (7:30 p.m.).
With a 45-39 first round victory over Scranton Prep, the Lady Raiders (28-0) broke the school record, set by the 1976-77 team, for consecutive wins in a season with 28. Now, they'll set their sights on win number 29 by trying to do something that hasn't been done in over 30 years at Tamaqua – advancing to the quarterfinals of the State tournament.
"Given our recent history, it's a big psychological hurdle for us to get past the second round," stated Tamaqua head coach Joe Berezwick. "We're now in a four-game season and we're just taking it one game at a time. In Oley Valley, we're playing against a very explosive offensive club, so it certainly doesn't get any easier from here."
Oley Valley (24-4) opened the State tournament with a 45-38 victory over Friere Charter and is making its second consecutive state playoff appearance. Last year, the Lynx suffered a 69-53 second round setback to Archbishop Carroll.
Tamaqua, having won 35 of its last 36 games, will no doubt have its hands full against a team that averages 62.3 points per game and features four starters averaging double-figures.
"Like our last game (against Scranton Prep), we're playing against a very balanced club," stated Berezwick. "The one big difference though is that Scranton Prep relied heavily on its defense, whereas Oley Valley is putting up huge offensive numbers and they want to get up and down the court in transition."
Leading the way for Oley Valley is 5-6 freshman point guard Brandi Vallely (14.0 ppg). She is joined in the backcourt by junior guards Jasmen Clark (5-5, 13.7) and Breanne Lamey (5-4, 12.4). Clark (a 1,000-point scorer) and Lamey are dangerous outside shooters, as the duo has combined for 89 three-pointers on the season (Clark 48, Lamey 41). In comparison, the Lady Raiders have 57 three-pointers as a team.
"They have two outstanding three-point shooters," added Berzwick. "We need to focus on them and make sure we limit their chances by not allowing easy looks at the basket. In addition, Vallely is almost a mirror image of Scranton Prep freshman point guard Tricia Bryne, so we need to contain her by not allowing her to drive to the basket."
Rounding out the Lynx starting lineup is 5-11 junior forward Miranda Knott (10.9 ppg) and 5-10 senior forward Kayla Krott (6.6), while 6-0 junior forward Loryn Grieb (3.5) comes off the bench.
"When you look at their offensive numbers, they definitely concern you," noted Berezwick. "If we're able to slow them down, get offensive rebounds and keep the game in the 40s, that definitely favors us."
"We can give up some points knowing that we can also score some, but at the same time, we want to have enough defense to be able to slow them down and take them out of their comfort zone." added Berezwick.
Oley Valley's four losses this season have come at the hands of Boyertown, Calloway Country (KY), Reading Central Catholic and Daniel Boone. The Lynx also had the luxury of already playing at Hamburg high school, as they posted 67-33 victory over the host Hawks in mid-January.
Tamaqua, the sixth-ranked Class AAA team in the state averaging 54.0 points per game, will showcase a starting lineup consisting of seniors Amy Zehner (22.3 points per game, 11.5 rebounds per game, 17 double-doubles), Cassie Eroh (12.3 ppg), Allison Updike (6.5), junior Kayla Hope (4.4) and sophomore Maria Streisel (5.6).
The winner of this game will play either third-ranked Prep Charter (22-2) or West Scranton (25-1) on Saturday, March 19.