EASTON - The Northern Lehigh girls basketball team is experiencing a sensational season that ranks as one of the best in program history.
But on Saturday afternoon at Easton Area Middle School, the Bulldogs (24-2) found out they are not quite in the same class as Allentown Central Catholic.
Truth be told, very few teams are.
Northern Lehigh's offense was shut down by a smothering Vikings' defense in a 42-24 loss in the District 11 Class AAA Final. The Bulldogs became the latest victim to Central Catholic in district title games as the Vikings notched their 11th straight district championship.
"They took us out of whatever we wanted to run. We couldn't run a play," Northern Lehigh coach Dave Oertner said. "Their defense was the difference, plain and simple."
Central Catholic (25-2) held Northern Lehigh to 24 points, 26 points below its season average. The Bulldogs managed just 10 field goals and two free throws in the game.
After trailing 20-13 at halftime, Northern Lehigh was held to just four third-quarter points and Central Catholic extended the lead to 15 after three quarters.
Lauren Oertner, who scored a team-high eight points, got the Bulldogs' deficit to 11 with a jumper with 4:31 remaining in the fourth quarter. But the Vikings outscored Northern Lehigh 9-2 the rest of the way to seal the victory.
Coach Oertner believes it was Central Catholic's defense that affected his team, not its rich tradition.
"We played the first half fine but we missed some shots. I don't think that was it as much as their defense intimidated us," Oertner said. "I don't think it was their reputation, I think it was their good play."
The Vikings also limited the Bulldogs' leading scorer sophomore Aimee Oertner, holding her to four points, 13 below her season average.
"We were picking her up at full court and making her work a whole lot. Then transferring her off to somebody else on the other end when she got under the basket," Central coach Mike Kopp said.
In the first half, Northern Lehigh kept with the 10-time defending district champions. Maggie LeVan and Lauren Oertner added consecutive baskets to cut the Central Catholic lead to 17-13 with 2:20 left in the second quarter. But a 3-pointer from the Vikings' reserve Abbey Guman with 1:15 remaining pushed the lead back to seven at intermission, a margin that the Bulldogs would never cut into in the second half.
Taylor Maldonado led Central Catholic with 12 points and Colleen Nosovitch and Kerry Kinek each added eight for the Vikings.
Another big factor in the game was Northern Lehigh's foul trouble. The Bulldogs committed 14 fouls on the afternoon with both Oertners battling foul issues. Aimee Oertner picked up three fouls in the first half and Lauren Oertner fouled out with 4:08 remaining in the game.
Despite the disappointing result against Central Catholic, Northern Lehigh's season isn't over yet. The Bulldogs will open up the PIAA playoffs with a matchup against District 4 Champion Shikellamy (21-4) at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday at Shamokin Area High School.
A. Oertner 2-0-0-4, Bastardi 0-2-2-2, Howell 0-0-2-0, Josephson 2-0-0-6, L. Oertner 4-0-0-8, LeVan 2-0-0-4, Seiler 0-0-0-0. TOTALS 10-2-4-24.
Graff 0-0-0-0, Guman 1-1-2-4, Hollawell 0-0-0-0, Johnson 1-0-0-2, Kinek 3-2-3-8, Kocsis 1-2-2-4, Maldonado 3-5-6-12, Nosovitch 3-2-4-8, Smith 0-0-0-0, Straccia 1-2-2-4, Wehr 0-0-0-0. TOTALS 13-14-19-42.
No. Lehigh 5 8 4 7 - 24
Cent. Catholic 11 9 12 10 - 42
Three-pointers - Guman 1, Maldonado 1; Josephson 2.