Lehighton had a lot of reasons to feel good after its 55-52 victory over Pleasant Valley on Tuesday night.
The Indians could have been happy with the way they avenged an earlier loss to the Bears. They could have been thrilled about overcoming a double-digit second half deficit. They could have been overjoyed with the fact that they are now just one victory away from clinching a District 11 playoff berth.
But Lehighton coach Rich Oertner had a different reason to celebrate his team's victory.
"Any time you can get a Mountain Valley Conference win it's a big deal," said Oertner. "This is such a tough league.
"I consider any win in this league a feather in our cap. We beat a good Pleasant Valley team tonight and that's the biggest reason I'm happy right now."
Early in the second half, it looked like Oertner and the Indians weren't going to be leaving the gym happy.
The Bears used a three-point play by Marquis Brown and a driving layup by Jarius Hosier to turn a six-point halftime edge into a 31-20 advantage with six minutes left in the third quarter.
But it took Lehighton less than a minute to make it a game again and when James Farano hit a short jumper with 2:05 left in third quarter the score was tied at 33-33.
The Lehighton rally was ignited by Tyler Crum, who hit a pair of three-pointers in a 20-second span and then added another one a couple of minutes later.
"We didn't make many shots early in the game," said Oertner about his team's 7-for-28 shooting performance to start the game, which included no three-pointers. "But we can usually count on Tyler (Crum) and Jordan (Knappenberger) knocking down some threes at some point during the game so I was hoping it was just going to be a matter of time.
"Tyler hit a couple of big threes to get us going and then Jordan was able to hit a few shots in the fourth quarter when we opened up our lead."
Lehighton took a 37-36 advantage into the final period despite the fact that Knappenberger, their leading scorer, didn't have a point.
That quickly changed as Knappenberger buried a triple to open the quarter and scored nine points in the period. His two free throws, after the second Pleasant Valley technical foul of the quarter, gave the Indians a 53-46 lead and the ball with just :37 remaining.
"Obviously, the four points they got on the technical fouls were huge in a game that was so tight in the fourth quarter," said Pleasant Valley coach Ken Piontkowski. "I would have liked to see the officials use a little discretion in the situation. I had no problem with how they called the game, but I don't think either of the technicals were warranted."
Pleasant Valley didn't go down without a fight, however, as they forced a turnover and then used three-point play by Brown and a three-point shot by Lance Robinson to make it 54-52 with :08 left.
After Anthony Rossino hit one of two free throw attempts for Lehighton, Brown got off a potential game-tying three-pointer from about 30 feet out but it was off the mark.
"We haven't played a lot of close games and it looked like it in the final half minute," said Oertner. "We made some mistakes that gave them a chance to force overtime.
"But overall I was happy with how we played. I thought we showed a lot of hustle during the second half when we made our comeback. It wasn't always pretty, but I'm proud of our effort."
Lehighton (10-7, 3-6) was led by Rossino's 14 points. Farano added 14 and Crum chipped in 12.
The loss dealt a severe blow to the postseason hopes for Pleasant Valley (6-10, 2-7), which must now win five of its final six games.
"It's so frustrating," said Piontkowski. "This is a year-round commitment for the players and the coaches. We're battling to qualify for the playoffs and an important game is influenced by a couple of [technical foul] calls like that. I don't want to take anything away from Lehighton, they made some big plays in the second half, but those two calls were huge."
Brown 6-2-4-14, Mikulski 1-0-0-2, Neverez 3-0-0-6, Robinson 4-0-0-10, Hosier 2-0-0-4, Deegan 1-2-2-4, Pazienza 1-1-2-3, Sharpe 2-0-0-5, Neubert 2-0-2-4. TOTALS: 22-5-10-52.
Rossino 2-11-16-15, Farano 6-1-2-14, Crum 4-1-2-12, J. Knappenberger 2-4-4-9, Mele 2-1-2-5. TOTALS: 16-18-26-55.
Pleasant Vy. 15 11 10 16 - 52
Lehighton 7 13 17 18 - 55
Three-pointers: Pleasant Vy. – Robinson 2, Sharpe 1. Lehighton – Crum 3, Knappenberger 1, Farano 1.