Tamaqua has not lost its focus in the Schuylkill League Division I race.
Now the Lady Raiders have their eyes on the prize.
Since losing to Pine Grove on Jan. 14, the Raiders have reeled off eight straight victories, including Thursday night's 62-31 Division I triumph over Panther Valley at the Tamaqua Area Athletic Center.
That win, combined with Blue Mountain's 50-48 victory over Pine Grove, put Tamaqua (18-1 overall, 9-1 league) one-half game ahead of the Cardinals for the Division lead. It also clinched a spot in the Schuylkill League playoffs for the Raiders.
Amy Zehner had another outstanding all-around game for the Raiders. The 5-11 junior poured in a game-high 29 points, pulled down 17 rebounds and added five steals.
Zehner now has 1,105 career points, passing Christa DeAngelo's 1,082 for eighth place on the all-time Raider girls scoring list.
The contributions of the rest of the Raiders shouldn't be overlooked, however.
Elissa Streisel connected for 11 points, including three triples, to keep the Panthers from collapsing on Zehner inside.
Cassie Eroh grabbed 11 caroms to go with seven points, joining Zehner is giving the Raiders a whopping 49-26 edge off the boards.
Allison Updike dished off seven assists and Kayla Hope hounded the Panther guards defensively all over the court.
"We had a lot of chemistry all through the game and we played with a lot of energy," said Tamaqua coach Joe Berezwick. "It was a real solid performance. We had some nice balance and unselfish play."
Coach Josh Wank's Panthers (5-13, 1-9) tried a number of defenses, including a zone, man to man and a three-quarter court trap, but the Raiders were able to adjust each time.
Tamaqua took a 16-8 lead after one quarter behind eight points from Zehner and treys from Streisel and Eroh, while Megan Berezwick added a jumper off the bench. Dana McFadden had five points in the frame, including a three-ball, to go with a Demi Ogozalek triple for the Panthers.
Zehner's relentless work off the glass continued to spark the Raiders, as she netted seven points in the second stanza to expand the lead to 31-15 at the half. "We really hit the boards strong with Amy, Cassie and Allison," praised Berezwick.
The Panthers' best quarter was the third, where they collected 14 points. PV's Mary Jane Thomas hit seven of eight free throws in the period, which ended with Tamaqua on top 46-29.
With games against Lehighton Saturday (weather permitting) and at Pine Grove Monday, Berezwick gave his reserves plenty of court time in the second half, as did the Panthers.
Lauren Fedor had four points off the bench and Shelby Hankins hit a triple for the Raiders.
"We keep moving on as we get closer and closer to the big game Monday," remarked Berezwick.
McFadden's 10 points paced the Panthers, who also received 10 rebounds from Sam Zlock.
Tamaqua's JVs posted a 51-38 win. Maria Streisel had 16 points and Christine Streisel 15 for the Raiders. Krystin Gates had 14 points to lead the Panthers.
Gates 1-0-0-2, McFadden 4-0-0-10, Phillips 0-0-0-0, A. Markovich 2-0-0-4, Paul 0-0-0-0, O. Markovich 0-0-0-0, Cullen 0-0-0-0, Ogozalek 1-0-0-3, Cunfer 1-0-1-2, Zlock 1-1-2-3, Thomas 0-7-9-7. TOTALS: 10-8-12-31.
Hope 0-0-0-0, C. Streisel 0-0-0-0, Berezwick 1-0-0-2, M. Streisel 1-0-0-2, Fedor 2-0-0-4, E. Streisel 4-0-0-11, Eroh 2-2-3-7, Zehner 13-3-4-29, Chrush 0-0-0-0, Updike 1-2-3-4, Hankins 1-0-0-3, Solt 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 25-7-10-62.
Panther Vy. 8 7 14 2 - 31
Tamaqua 16 15 15 16 - 62
Three-point goals: PV-McFadden 2, Ogozalek 1; T-E. Streisel 3, Eroh 1, Hankins 1.