POTTSVILLE - Kayla Hope scored just four points against Tri-Valley, but the Tamaqua sophomore guard's defensive contributions were essential.
The speedy Hope hounded Juli Weber, Tri-Valley's freshman point guard, all over the Martz Hall hardwood, disrupting the Lady Bulldogs' attempts to get into an offensive flow.
The rest of the Lady Raiders turned up their defense a notch as well, blanketing the Bulldogs and holding them without a field goal in the first half.
That epic shutdown resulted in a whopping 24-2 lead at the break as Tamaqua rolled to a 51-28 victory and the Schuylkill League championship Friday night.
The league title was the first for the Raiders (22-2) since the 1976-77 season and clinched the top seed for the District 11 Class AA playoffs, where Tamaqua is the defending champion.
The Raiders lost to Nativity in last year's Schuylkill title game, but they were not to be denied this time.
"We came out with fire in our eyes," said Raider junior forward Amy Zehner, who pumped in a game-high 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds. "We wanted gold medals around our necks this time."
While the Division I wild card Raiders had beaten Tri-Valley 49-34 on Jan. 5, the Division II champion Bulldogs (18-5) caught everyone's attention by knocking off favored Pine Grove 58-54 in double overtime in the Schuylkill semis. Weber connected for 24 points against Pine Grove, and another freshman, 6-4 center Tara Nahodil, added 18 points.
Tamaqua coach Joe Berezwick centered the Raiders' defensive efforts on containing the Bulldogs' star frosh, and his squad's execution exceeded his wildest expectations.
The Raiders held Tri-Valley to an 0-for-19 showing from the field in the first half, forcing 13 turnovers, including 11 in the first quarter alone. The Bulldogs' only points came on foul shots by Amber Wehry and Nahodil, and their first field goal didn't happen until Nahodil scored inside at 6:47 of the third quarter.
Meanwhile, Zehner and senior Elissa Streisel provided a one-two scoring punch, with each connecting for seven first quarter points for a 17-1 lead. The 5-11 Zehner added two more buckets in the second stanza and junior Cassie Eroh drilled a triple at the buzzer as the lead ballooned to a comfortable 22 at the break.
"Two points at the half? It was an outstanding effort by the girls," praised Berezwick. "They were all over the floor. Obviously, we wanted to concentrate on Weber and the big girl (Nahodil) inside. Kayla just dogged Weber 90 feet the whole game, and it took its toll.
"Then we had Amy on their big kid, and she did a great job, sometimes fronting, sometimes playing behind. She also got great backside help from the other girls when she played in front, and if she played behind, we had really great scratchdowns."
"We knew defense was the key and that Weber controls their offense and the tempo of the game," said Hope, who held Weber to six points, less than half her 13 point average. "If I could make her struggle and keep on her the whole game, then their offense would break down."
If Tri-Valley harbored any thoughts of a rally, Streisel buried them when she connected for three triples in the third quarter to push the gap to 33-4. "Those threes by Elissa were just like daggers," said Berezwick.
"When everybody is coming at Amy, I need to make some moves, and so does everybody else," said Streisel, who finished with 16 points. "We've all been doing that."
"They just did what they usually do very well," said Tri-Valley coach Bob Felty. "They made us play poorly. My hat's off to them."
The result is that the Raiders put an emphatic end to their 33 year Schuylkill title drought.
"This is considered by many people to be one of the best leagues in the state, and for this group of kids to win this trophy means a lot," said Berezwick.
HOOPLA - Nahodil led Tri-Valley with 10 points and nine rebounds ... Raiders shot 21 of 52 from the field (40.4 percent) to Tri-Valley's 11 of 46 (23.9 percent) ... boards were fairly even with TV getting 34 and Tamaqua 33. Allie Updike hauled down 10 caroms for the Raiders ... TV committed 18 miscues to 11 for Tams ... Berezwick cleared his bench with 4:48 left ... this was second Schuylkill gold for Elissa Streisel, who had one while with Marian in 2007.
Hope 2-0-0-4, C. Streisel 0-0-0-0, Berezwick 0-0-0-0, M. Streisel 1-0-0-2, Fedor 1-0-0-2, E. Streisel 6-0-0-16, Eroh 3-0-0-7, Zehner 7-3-3-17, Updike 0-1-2-1, Hankins 0-0-0-0, Solt 1-0-1-2. TOTALS: 21-4-6-51.
Weber 2-1-1-6, Starr 1-0-0-2, Newswanger 2-0-0-4, Masser 0-0-0-0, Wehry 0-1-2-1, Hepler 1-0-0-3, M. Stutzman 0-0-0-0, Green 0-0-0-0, C. Stutzman 1-0-0-2, Nahodil 4-2-6-10. TOTALS: 11-4-9-28.
Tamaqua 17 7 19 8 - 51
Tri-Valley 1 1 13 13 - 28
Three-point goals: Tamaqua-E. Streisel 4, Eroh 1; TV-Weber 1, Hepler 1.