When he took over the Lehighton boys basketball program last year, Rich Oertner was not very thrilled with his team's ball movement. Four games into this season, Oertner is content with that aspect's improvement.
The Indians utilized some good teamwork, crisp passing and unselfishness to generate offense on their way to a 68-40 drubbing of Jim Thorpe on Saturday.
"We're moving the ball a lot better this year, than at this point in the season last year," Oertner approved. "We're still learning and we're starting to get there. But our defense was a big factor tonight, too."
As soon as Jim Thorpe's youthful guards would traverse half court, Lehighton's defense would immediately pressure the ball handlers in attempt to force turnovers. More times than not, it was successful in that venture. The steals would lead to fast break opportunities in which Lehighton cashed in on repeatedly on its way to the non-league win.
"You have to give Lehighton credit," Jim Thorpe head coach Brian Carroll admitted after the game. "We prepared for this game for a few days and we knew what was coming. Even though it was a tight game early on, they came at us aggressively and hit us with the knock out punch."
In fact, Mike Harleston's three at the first-period buzzer cut Lehighton's lead to 18-14 as the close game got underway. Sophomore Tyler Crum's nine points in the session paced the Indians, while Deonte St. Hill netted five for Thorpe to keep it close.
The two sides traded 4-0 runs in the second quarter, before the pre-alludedknockout punch was thrown. Leading 22-18 with 5:30 to go before halftime, the Tribe went on a 16-1 run to finish the quarter. Crum hit a pull-up trey to begin the sway, while Rossino nailed another to end it. Inside specialist Jacen Nalesnik added five points during the stretch, as well.
"In the game of basketball, if a team comes at you aggressively, you need to be aggressive back at them," coach Carroll reiterated. "This game just came down to us not being able to execute against their defensive pressure."
In the third period, Rossino stepped up his game as three times he managed steals leading to lay-ups for six points to help the Indians maintain their hold. Despite five points by Jim Thorpe's David Everitt, the Indians led 55-32 entering the fourth quarter.
"(Rossino)'s starting to get there," Oertner admitted. "To run the offense, be our coach out there on the floor and play aggressive, solid defense, and still have hardly any turnovers, that's just fantastic."
The closest the Olympians got the rest of the way was 55-36 with 6:35 remaining, as Jaquan Brown's put-back cut his team's deficit to 19, but Lehighton managed to pull away.
"There's no way to go but up from here," Carroll mentioned. "There's no rest for the weary and after our last game, I have seen some improvements."
In the game, Jim Thorpe was led by Brown's team-high 15 points, while Lehighton got good games from Crum (17 points), Rossino (14 points), and Nalesnik (13 points).
Jim Thorpe travels to Panther Valley tonight, while Lehighton will host East Stroudsburg North in a big Mountain Valley Conference match-up tomorrow night.
Lehighton also prevailed in the JV contest with a 67-26 runaway win over the junior Olympians. Tyler Williams' 20 points was a game-high, while teammate Micah Evans chipped in 14. Brett Luciano scored nine in the losing effort.
St. Hill 2-2-2-7, Harleston 1-2-2-5, Heydt 0-0-0-0, Lindsey 1-0-0-2, M. Principe 0-0-0-0, Green 0-0-0-0, Snisky 2-0-0-4, S. Principe 0-0-0-0, McElmoyle 0-0-0-0, Micciche 1-0-0-2, Brown 7-1-2-15, Everitt 2-1-2-5. TOTALS: 16-6-8-40.
Rossino 6-1-2-14, Farano 4-0-0-9, Crum 5-5-6-17, Zwetolitz 0-0-1-0, Williams 0-0-0-0, McCandless 0-4-4-4, K. Knappenberger 0-1-2-1, Thompson 1-0-0-2, J. Knappenberger 1-0-0-3, Mele 2-1-2-5, Nalesnik 6-1-3-13. TOTALS: 25-13-20-68.
Jim Thorpe 14 5 13 8 - 40
Lehighton 18 20 17 13 - 68
Three pointers: JT - St. Hill 1, Harleston 1; L - Crum 2, Rossino 1, Farano 1, J. Knappenberger 1.