SOUTH WHITEHALL TWP – Putting Wilson on the foul line late in a close game seemed like a solid game plan. The Warriors were shooting just 58 percent from the line for the season.
They hit just enough, making six of their 10 attempts in the final minute and 22 seconds to hold off Northern Lehigh, 43-39, in a District 11 Class AAA boys semifinal.
"We've been working on foul shots," said Warriors head coach Bob Frankenfield, whose team made 11 of 17 in the game. "I think they were focused on the foul line."
The No. 5 seed Warriors (15-9) advance to meet No. 2 seed Allentown Central Catholic in Friday's final. The No. 1 seed Bulldogs (19-5) will take on No. 3 seed North Schuylkill in a consolation game at Blue Mountain Friday at 7 p.m.
The teams were back and forth all night, with Wilson answering each time Northern Lehigh tried to build a lead. But in the final four minutes the Bulldogs gave up a few offensive rebounds. They also committed a turnover with 19 seconds left that allowed Wilson to open a four-point lead and seal the win.
"We should control the boards with our size," said Northern Lehigh head coach Jeff Miller. "We didn't do that down the stretch. Those two offensive rebounds hurt us. Then we had two big turnovers. You can't do that in big games."
Northern Lehigh went ahead early and led for a majority of the close game. Wilson took the lead for good when Gerald Terry hit a three-pointer with 1:36 left in the fourth quarter to put his team ahead 37-36.
Wilson made 6 of 10 three-point attempts in the game, many of them coming at crucial times.
"They had six threes on the night, which certainly hurt," said Miller. "We knew who was going to shoot them. We just didn't close out with a hand up and allowed them to get a good look at it."
The Bulldogs had chances to even the score down the stretch.
Wilson's Ryan Spirko, a 38 percent foul shooter, hit one of two free throws to give his team a two-point lead with 1:22 left before Northern Lehigh's Devin Glose missed the front of a one and one.
After the Warriors extended the lead to three, Lucas Pierce got the Bulldogs back within one by hitting a pair from the line.
Terry made one of two shots at the foul line to make it 40-38 with 52 seconds left. Glose then made one of two as his team remained one point down with 41 seconds left.
Terry went back to the line and hit both with 39 seconds left, giving his team a 42-39 lead. Northern Lehigh turned the ball over with 19 seconds left and Terry sealed the win by making one of two free throws with 17 seconds left for a four-point lead.
Miller felt like his team could have avoided getting into a free throw contest late.
"It boils down to the end," he said. "But a lot of it was lost when we had a 6-0 lead and had an opportunity to put the game away a little bit. Then we take a bad shot and have a turnover."
The Warriors answered that early run with two three-point plays in the final two minutes of the first quarter. Northern Lehigh tried to build a lead in the second quarter, but the Warriors asnswered over and over.
After Northern Lehigh's early spurt, no team held a lead larger than three points until the final seconds.
Terry scored a game-high 19 points.
Pierce had 14 for Northern Lehigh, but the Warriors were able to contain Johnson, who had just five points and five rebounds.
"A lot of times offensively our spacing wasn't good," said Miller. "That allowed them the opportunity to double when our big guys touched the ball."
Northern Lehigh held a height advantage with Pierce (6-foot-7) and Johnson (6-5) going up against Wilson's Pierfy (6-4), Sam Healey (6-1) and Zach Bogoly (6-2). But the smaller Warriors were able to defend the Bulldog big men better than their January 17 loss to them, 39-34.
"I thought we kept them out of the paint with the layups," Frankenfield said. "They had about 24 points in the paints against us the first time."
With District 11 earning three berths into the PIAA Tournament, Northern Lehigh still has a chance to extend its season.
"It hurts," Miller said. "But we'll go back to work tomorrow and get ready for North Schuylkill and hopefully we can have our season continue."
Terry 5-7-9-19, Bogoly 1-0-0-2, Bailey 3-1-2-10, Spirko 2-3-6-7, Healey 0-0-0-0, Pierfy 2-0-0-5. TOTALS: 13-11-17-43.
George 2-0-0-5, Dibilio 1-0-0-3, J. Pristash 0-0-0-0, Glose 3-4-6-10, Eden 1-0-0-2, Landsberger 0-0-0-0, Johnson 2-1-1-5, Pierce 5-4-5-14. TOTALS: 14-9-12-39.
Wilson 6 6 13 16 – 43
No. Lehigh 6 8 13 12 – 39
Three-pointers – W: Bailey 3, Terry 2, Pierfy 1; NL: George1, Dibilio 1.