Tamaqua didn't lead much in its Schuylkill League Division 1 opener against North Schuylkill on Monday.
But fortunately, for the Blue Raiders, one of their only leads came at the right time.
Trailing for practically the entire contest against the Spartans, Cas Kosciolek's team used a bizarre three-pointer with a minute left in regulation to tie the game before going on top with 30 seconds to play.
After that, a stop at the defensive end secured an exciting 43-41 victory and pushed Tamaqua's record to a perfect 4-0.
"We probably led for just a couple seconds of the game but we were in it all the time," said Coach Kosciolek. "Early on it seems like the kids are numb to these pressure situations. I just try to get them to play loose and make plays. What this team has done is make enough plays to win.
"And similar to Friday (in an overtime win against Southern Columbia), when we needed a stop to end the game we got it."
A pair of free throws by North Schuylkill's Jake Damiter gave the visitors a 41-38 edge with 1:20 showing on the clock. On the Raiders' next possession Bo Rottet looked to get the ball into the team's leading scorer, Brett Kosciolek. Rottet, however, couldn't find an opening and eventually turned toward the basket and put up a three-pointer that hit the mark.
Damiter tried to put the Spartans (3-1; 0-1) back in front, but his missed shot in tight was rebounded by Kosciolek. The Tamaqua sophomore found a streaking Tyler Krell up the floor who drove to the basket for the go-ahead score.
"That's how we mapped it out," joked Coach Kosciolek about Rottet's three-pointer. "That was an incredible shot by Bo. In all fairness to him, he kept his pivot foot, got his foot behind the line, and even how crazy of a shot it was it was an on-balanced shot. And believe it or not, it was the only option at the time. The basketball gods were with us."
North Schuylkill went to Damiter again in hopes of forcing overtime, but a defensive stop and another rebound by Kosciolek sealed the win.
"Ultimately defense wins," said Coach Kosciolek. "We spend a whole lot of time on defense and we're getting better on defense. It's a huge win because North Schuylkill is one of the heavyweights in Division 1. For us to compete with them, and fortunately win at the end hopefully will give us confidence as we move along."
Tamaqua's confidence was a bit tested in the early going. The Spartans' smothering man defense forced 13 first-half turnovers and kept the Raiders out of synch, which translated to a 22-15 advantage.
A different team came out of the home locker room, though, and the result was another victory. Kosciolek's club only suffered three turnovers in the second half and his offense started clicking.
"(Assistant coach) J.C. Dietz challenged Brett in the second half," said Coach Kosciolek. "He said to him that he needs to take over offensively and that he needs to be more aggressive. And he was. He not only challenged Brett, but he also challenged the rest of the team. He told them they needed to toughen up and I think they responded to that challenge."
Kosciolek finished with a game-high 14 points, 11 of which came over the final two frames. He also collected eight rebounds. Rottet finished with nine while Zach Wargula added seven pints and six boards.
In the JV game, North Schuylkill posted a 47-43 win despite 10 points from Tamaqua's Chris Hartung.
Hughes 3-2-4-8, Ennis 0-0-0-0, Meyer 2-6-6-11, Howard 0-0-0-0, Damiter 0-2-2-2, Gregas 1-0-0-2, Gallagher 0-0-0-0, Stokes 5-0-0-10, Walsh 2-3-4-8. TOTALS: 13-13-16-41.
Rottet 3-2-2-9, Chartier 2-0-0-4, Krell 2-0-2-4, Weinert 0-0-0-0, Frantz 1-0-0-2, Wargula 2-2-2-7, Ty. Skripko 1-1-2-3, Kosciolek 6-2-4-14, Tr. Skripko 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 17-7-12-43.
No. Schuy. 6 16 10 9 - 41
Tamaqua 6 9 11 17 - 43
Three-pointers: No. Schuylkill - Meyer 1, Walsh 1; Tamaqua - Wargula 1, Rottet 1.