CATASAUQUA - The defending Colonial League champs are headed back to the girls championship game.
Top-seeded Southern Lehigh got a big night from Bridgette Dougherty and some well-timed three-pointers from her teammates in a 57-48 win over Northwestern and advance to Friday's finals.
"They're a good team," said Northwestern head coach Chris Deutsch. "There's a reason why they're Colonial League champs. They can score inside. They can score outside."
Dougherty, a 6-foot-1 senior center, scored 21 points in the game, while teammates Melann Amory and Julia Nemeth hit critical three-pointers to loosen things up.
The win puts the Spartans (20-3, 15-1) in Friday's final at Freedom High School where they will face No. 2 seed Bangor (18-5, 12-4). The Slaters beat Notre Dame (Green Pond) 49-35 Tuesday's other semifinal at Catasauqua High School.
After a tight first half, Southern Lehigh started pulling away late in the third quarter.
An Amory three-pointer and a foul shot by Dougherty in the final minute of the third quarter gave the Spartans their biggest lead of the game, 43-38, and marked the first time either team led by more than four.
A Dougherty basket started the fourth quarter and stretched the Southern Lehigh lead to seven. After a Northwestern time out Amory hit her third three-pointer of the game to give her team a 48-38 lead with 6:34 left in the game.
"That three was a killer," said Deutsch. "Give them credit. They made the plays. They hit the shots."
Southern Lehigh hit two of four three-point attempts in the first half and three of four in the second half.
"That opens it up for Bridgette inside," said Southern Lehigh head coach Megan Dellegrotti. "If we can hit a jump shot or two it's going to open the middle for Bridgette. She's used to having two or three people on her. People just pack it in on us."
Northwestern, which usually plays man-to-man defense, played a zone to counter the Spartans' size. But 5-10 sophomore Madelene McDonald (13 points) and Dougherty were able to get baskets inside or earn trips to the free throw line.
Dougherty had 15 rebounds and made 8-of-14 shots in the game.
"My teammates did a good job of getting me the ball," Dougherty said. "We played unselfish and everyone got good shots and we came out with the win."
"We knew that she should be able to be a big presence inside," said Dellegrotti. "They didn't have anyone that can guard her. She has to play big for us to win. That's a big key for us."
After going ahead by 10, Southern Lehigh stayed up by at least eight points the rest of the way, pulling away on some late free throws.
The Tigers (15-8, 11-5) were making their first league playoff appearance since winning the 2007 title. They went toe-to-toe with Southern Lehigh for the first half.
The teams exchanged the lead nine times in the first quarter and five more times in the second as neither team could get a lead larger than four points.
After the Tigers took an early 4-0 lead, Dougherty set the tone for the game, scoring 10 points and pulling down five rebounds in the first period alone.
Southern Lehigh used a Nemeth three-pointer at the buzzer to send the game to halftime tied at 31-31.
The Tigers last lead came on a Sara Jones basket with 5:44 left in the third quarter that made it 35-34. Southern Lehigh went on a 9-3 run to end the quarter and take control of the game.
Despite the loss, Deutsch was happy with his young team, which starts two freshmen and just one senior.
"I thought our effort was outstanding today," he said. "I thought we played really hard and they did too. We had a little bad spurt there in the second half, but I think we got worn down a little bit. They're big and it's tough.
"They're a good team. But I think we can play with anybody. I think we can compete. I don't think we were overmatched."
Mertz 4-1-3-11, Landrigan 3-0-0-7, Jones 6-2-4-14, Kemmerer 2-0-0-4, Nemes 0-0-0-0, Cunningham 3-0-2-6, Dietrich 0-0-0-0, Segan 3-0-2-6. TOTALS: 21-3-11-48.
Sullivan 1-0-2-2, Nemeth 3-0-0-8, Mayer 0-0-0-0, Arnold 0-0-0-0, Yext 0-0-0-0, Dougherty 8-5-8-21, Amory 3-2-4-11, Campbell 1-0-0-2, McDonald 3-7-11-13. TOTALS: 19-14-25-57.
N'western 15 16 7 10 – 48
So. Lehigh 16 15 12 14 – 57
Three-pointers: NW - Mertz 2, Landrigan 1; SL - Amory 3, Nemeth 2.