POTTSVILLE The Jim Thorpe girls basketball team no doubt had a rough outing against Allentown Central Catholic in the District 11 AAA semifinal last Thursday night. However, even with the loss Thorpe had a chance to advance to the state tournament with a win over Southern Lehigh in the District 11 AAA consolation game at Martz Hall on Saturday afternoon.
Unfortunately for Jim Thorpe, Southern Lehigh had state playoff aspirations of their own, going on a late fourth quarter run to down the Lady Olympians 56-42 to advance to the PIAA Class AAA tournament.
Thorpe started off slow going down 8-2 early in the first quarter, but the Lady Olympians were rebounding the basketball much better than they did against Vikettes, in turn giving scoring standout Celeste Robinson the opportunity to bring JT back into the game. Quick outlet passes to Robinson gave her three straight buckets in transition and Jim Thorpe found itself down just four heading into the second quarter.
Foul trouble crept up on both Southern Lehigh and Jim Thorpe in the second, with Robinson picking up her third foul at the 6:23 mark and Spartans' leading scorer Bridgette Doughtery doing the same with 5:22 remaining. The Olympians were the more vulnerable of the two with the foul trouble as Robinson equates for almost 25 points a game for Thorpe's offense. The loss of Robinson did give Southern Lehigh the edge and they took advantage going on a 10-3 run to end the second quarter.
"The tempo was swinging in our favor and we were staying in the game," said Jim Thorpe head coach Rob Kovac. "We were down five when Celeste had to come out and our kids just had to try and hang on until the half. I give them all the credit too, because they did the best they could and they played hard."
Jim Thorpe, like they have all season long, picked up the full-court pressure in the second half. The Olympians' "D" was responsible for 11 Spartan turnovers in the third and fourth quarter and closed within six heading into the fourth.
Southern Lehigh then responded in the fourth scoring back-to-back field goals to extend their lead to nine at the 6:14 mark. Jim Thorpe made another run at the Spartans to get within five a minute later, but foul trouble problems arose for the Lady Olympians once again. Defensive standout Nina Batts picked up her fifth foul with five minutes remaining, which proved to be the deciding factor in the ball game. Batts was responsible for Thorpe's last effort at the win gaining two steals and two assists to get them within five.
"When you go on big runs in the back of your head you always know they're going to come to an end," said Kovac. "When Nina fouled out their coaching staff was smart in pulling the ball out, which made us get out of our zone. Without Nina it was hard for us to match-up with them man-to-man not only size wise but athletically."
Southern Lehigh weathered the storm all evening long and fought through every Jim Thorpe run. An attribute that will prove pivotal as the Spartans enter the state tournament.
"Basketball is a game of runs and Jim Thorpe kept challenging us," said Southern Lehigh head coach Megan Delegrotti. "I'm proud of my girls for fighting through the adversity and we got some key baskets late when the game was on the line."
Although Jim Thorpe's season has come to an end, the fact that this was the best girls basketball team the program has ever fielded cannot go unnoticed.
"I wish I could spend forever coaching these kids," said Kovac. "They're a great bunch and have been the heart and soul of getting Jim Thorpe basketball to relevancy. If they attack life the way they attacked the game of basketball they'll be very successful."
Madelene McDonald scored a game-high 18 points and Doughtery and Brianna Pierce added 12 and 10 a piece for the Spartans.
Robinson finished with 16 for Jim Thorpe and Kristin Lawrence chipped in with 11 points.
McEmoyle 3-0-0-8, Batts 0-1-2-1, Lawrence 4-1-2-11, Condly 0-0-0-0, Robinson 8-0-2-16, Mosteller 0-0-0-0, Ennis 0-0-0-0, Smelas 3-0-2-6. TOTALS: 18-2-8-42.
Amory 3-0-0-8, Campbell 0-2-4-2, Doughtery 5-0-3-12, McDonald 8-2-3-18, Nemeth 0-2-2-2, Pierce 4-2-2-10, Sullivan 2-0-0-4. TOTALS: 23-8-14-56.
Jim Thorpe 9 18 8 7 - 42
So. Lehigh 13 16 12 15 - 56
Three-pointers: Jim Thorpe - McEmoyle 2, Lawrence 2; Southern Lehigh - Amory 2.