BETHLEHEM – Northern Lehigh's biggest vulnerability is its lack of depth.
The Lady Bulldogs' five starters play almost every significant minute of every game. When one or more of those players get in foul trouble, they don't have an answer.
With its two top scorers in foul trouble in Friday's Colonial League title game against Southern Lehigh, Northern Lehigh couldn't hold off the Lady Spartans, falling 42-33 at Liberty High School's Memorial Gym.
"We knew they weren't very deep," said Lady Spartan head coach Megan Dellegrotti. "We wanted to attack, be aggressive offensively and go right at them, put them in position to either make fouls or get a lay up. Our girls did that. They executed exactly what I told them to do."
Through three quarters it seemed like the Bulldogs' early foul trouble wouldn't be a problem. Second-leading Sonya Josephson picked up her third foul early in the second half, but stayed in and didn't pick up another. Leading scorer Aimee Oertner had two fouls in the first half but got through third quarter without another.
Northern Lehigh (21-3) headed into the fourth quarter down 26-25, but Oertner picked up her third and fourth in the first six minutes of the quarter, just as the Spartans were starting their game-winning run.
"We played with a little bit of reckless abandon on defense and got a lot of bad fouls," said Northern Lehigh head coach Dave Oertner. "We couldn't play defense anymore. We really had to change our approach on the defensive end because of foul trouble. It really hurt us. It changed everything around."
With Northern Lehigh playing less aggressive defensively because of foul trouble, Southern Lehigh made 4 of 5 shots in the fourth quarter, the first time all game either team managed to pull away.
Clinging to a 30-29 lead with 5:48 left to play, Southern Lehigh (20-4) went on an 11-1 run for a 41-30 lead with 59 seconds left.
"I was happy being down one or two at the end of the third quarter," said Dave Oertner. "In the beginning of the fourth quarter they made a couple shots and we didn't. We just couldn't wrestle the lead. I thought if we could get the lead we'd win the game, but we just couldn't get the lead."
Northern Lehigh went 3-for-10 in the fourth quarter.
The Spartans were just 10-for-26 from the field in the first three quarters, but they stuck with their game plan of pounding the ball inside and it resulted in their first win over Northern Lehigh in the past two seasons.
"We knew eventually that would catch up to them," sadi Dellegrotti. "If you only play five people and you get in foul trouble, you're going to have to use other people."
"It's been the game plan every time we play them," said Spartan forward Hannah Doell. "But we've never done it as well as this time. It definitely helped out."
Doell carried the Spartans in the first quarter, scoring nine of her game-high 15 points in that period. She single-handedly pulled her team out to a 9-5 lead before Northern Lehigh tied it at 9 heading into the second quarter.
The teams traded leads a couple times in the second quarter, but neither could get larger than a two-point cushion.
The Spartans took a four-point lead early in the third, but Northern Lehigh cut it to one after three quarters.
Southern Lehigh got a big second-half from 6-foot-1 forward Bridgette Dougherty, who scored all 12 of her points after intermission. She also had 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocked shots.
Northern Lehigh was led by Aimee Oertner with 14 points and 8 rebounds.
Southern Lehigh moves on to districts, most likely as the No. 3 seed in Class AAA behind Tamaqua and Allentown Central Catholic, which both won league titles Friday night.
Northern Lehigh should be the top seed in Class AA.
After earning the top seed in league playoffs, the Lady Bulldogs will look forward to another chance at a title. The team went undefeated last year but didn't earn a title.
This year, with two seniors (Sonya Josephson and Lauren Oertner) that are key members of the team's starting line up, Northern Lehigh wants to earn a banner and the district tournament is its best chance.
"We'll bounce back and we'll be ready for the next one," Dave Oertner said.
Dimou 1-5-7-7, Nemeth 0-2-4-2, Sullivan 2-0-0-4, Cerciello 0-0-0-0, Dougherty 5-2-5-12, Doell 5-4-4-15, Reichl 1-0-0-2, Amory 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 14-13-20-42.
Follweiler 0-0-0-0, Bastardi 2-0-0-4, Werley 0-0-0-0, L. Oertner 4-1-2-9, Josephson 1-1-2-3, A. Oertner 5-3-5-14, Seiler 1-0-0-3. TOTALS: 13-5-9-33.
So. Lehigh 9 8 9 16 – 42
No. Lehigh 9 7 9 8 - 33
Three-pointers: SL – Doell 1; NL – A. Oertner 1, Seiler 1.