The Lehighton boys' basketball team is officially on a winning streak.
That is something that hasn't been said since January 5th of 2007. Nearly six years later, it can be voiced once again.
Lehighton won its third game in a row Tuesday night, as the Indians (4-1, 2-0) held on to beat East Stroudsburg North 66-53 in Mountain Valley Conference play. The locals have now defeated Pocono Mountain East and Eastburg North in the last four days and sit atop the conference standings.
"It all depends on who you play," joked Lehighton head coach Rich Oertner. "Two of the wins are over teams in our league and I think that means more than anything else to me. You can win games against teams that aren't real good, but to win games in our league is pretty tough because the teams usually bring a lot of athletes.
"The kids are getting smarter and smarter and if we are going to win it is going to be because of our mental toughness. We have some athletes, but we still need to be mentally tough."
Lehighton had everything working for it in the first quarter. Thanks in large part to their 3-2 zone, the Indians forced the Timberwolves into nine first-quarter turnovers and took advantage in a major way. Tyler Crum buried a three at the 2:50 mark to give Lehighton an 11-4 lead. A Vince Mele and-one 30 seconds later pushed the lead to ten before Anthony Rossino converted on a lay-up to make it 16-4.
The Indians extended their pressure in the second quarter and the Eastburg North turnover-fest continued. While the T'Wolves did get off 15 shots and scored 14 points in the frame, their seven turnovers allowed Lehighton to score 15 points of its own despite missing eight of 13 shots.
"Once we get to a certain point in the first half where we don't have to worry about foul trouble, we go a little harder at them," Oertner said. "Our press is unique in that we don't go full-court. As long as we keep it nice and tight and they don't get the ball to the middle we are pretty solid.
"(North) didn't know what to do against it and then we just kept mixing up defenses. We are going to keep doing that. I believe that we have to play as smart as we can and change defenses to try and confuse the opposition."
Eastburg North finally started to get things going in the third and managed to close the gap to two by the 2:30 mark. Just when it seemed as if Lehighton might let the lead slip away, Jordan Knappenberger - who was 0-for-8 at the time - nailed consecutive triples to push the lead back to six.
The lead was just two as the fourth quarter started. After Jacen Nalesnik scored on back-to-back possessions to give the Indians a 47-39 lead, things started to get a little chippy. So much so that North was hit with two technicals and gave Lehighton a total of 22 fourth-quarter free throws.
Rossino, who finished with a game-high 21 points, kept the T'Wolves at bay by scoring 13 in the fourth quarter. Eleven of those 13 points came from the charity stripe.
"I thought we came out strong," said the junior point guard. "But in the third quarter we just kept turning the ball over and playing bad defense. We got back to the fundamentals in the fourth quarter, played defense and made foul shots, and won the game."
The fourth victory already gives Lehighton more wins than it has had in each of the last five seasons. Next up for the Indians is Stroudsburg, which should prove as a better measuring stick. For now, Oertner is pleased with the way things are going.
"Down the stretch I think we are playing smarter and taking better shots," said Oertner. "The kids are starting to understand when to attack and when not to, but we still have a lot of growing up to do as far as holding the ball and being patient."
EAST STROUDSBURG NORTH
Mills 0-0-0-0, Battle 3-2-6-8, Thompson 0-0-0-0, Quiles 3-2-3-8, Byrd 1-0-0-2, John 6-2-3-18, Drakeford 4-0-0-9, Allwood 1-0-2-2, Cox 3-0-0-6, Turpin 0-0-0-0, Cartagena 0-0-0-0, Mangassoubba 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 21-6-14-53.
Rossino 5-11-18-21, Farano 0-6-6-6, Crum 6-3-4-17, Thompson 1-1-2-3, J. Knappenberger 2-0-1-6, Mele 2-3-3-7, Nalesnik 3-0-2-6. TOTALS: 19-24-36-66.
ES North 7 14 18 14 - 53
Lehighton 16 15 10 25 - 66
Three-Pointers: ESN - John 4, Drakeford; L - Crum 2, J. Knappenberger 2.