NORTHAMPTON – For a quarter, Palmerton was the better team. For a half, the two teams looked pretty even. By the second half, however, 11-time defending District 11 champ Central Catholic proved to be too much.
The Vikettes pulled away in the second half for a 47-31 win over the Lady Bombers in Wednesday night's District 11 Class AA semifinal at Northampton High School.
Central, which secured a state playoff berth with the win, will face Tamaqua in Saturday's title game, slated for 2:30 at Parkland High School. Palmerton's season ends with the loss.
"That first half was probably one of the best first halves we've played all year against any team," said Bomber assistant coach Ralph Andrews, who was sitting in for head coach Don Delich as Delich recovers from surgery. "We came out aggressive. We were playing with a lot of emotion for Don [Delich], for ourselves, for our seniors. They came out swinging, which is what we wanted to do."
The Bombers were leading 10-6 early in the second quarter before Central's 6-foot forward Kerry Kinek took over. Kinek scored nine straight points to give her team a 15-10 lead that it wouldn't relinquish.
Kinek, who scored 25 points on 11-for-16 shooting, also played great defense, blocking seven shots and pulling down 11 rebounds.
"She is a force inside," Andrews said. "We don't see anybody like that in the Colonial League."
Kinek's defense made it difficult for Palmerton's leading scorer, Kelsey Hay, to get opportunities inside. The Colonial League MVP scored nine points on 3-for-10 shooting. She got off just four shots in the first three quarters.
"Kelsey's a great player and Palmerton's a great team," said Kinek. "We knew we had to stop her and we all chipped in. We just had to come out and play good defense and our offense eventually came."
Palmerton kept it close in the first half. Trailing by seven late in the second quarter, Casey Rinfret made a foul shot then buzzer-beating three-pointer, trimming the deficit to 19-16 at halftime.
"We wanted to run some sort of delay," said Central Catholic head coach Mike Kopp. "My point guard didn't hear me. They ended up getting four points in like  seconds. That really hurt us going into halftime. I was really proud of the way the kids responded in the third quarter."
Fueled by their defense forcing five turnovers, the top-seeded Vikettes opened the period with an 8-0 run. The Bombers managed just two baskets in the quarter, both by Rinfret.
Central used a 10-2 run in the fourth quarter to build a 39-22 lead with 2:45 to go. A couple baskets by Hay got Palmerton within 11 in the final two minutes before the Vikettes finished off the win.
Palmerton (18-6) finishes a season that saw it reach both the Colonial League and District 11 semifinals.
"I'm really proud of the girls," Rinfret said. "We played with a really good team. I'm really happy with the season we had. Of course I wish we would have gone further. We played our best and we just came up short."
Next season the Bombers will return Hay, a junior, and a few other key players. They graduate two three-year starters in point guard Rinfret and guard Kate Reimer, as well as two-year starter Gina Farquhar.
"Their work ethic is not going to be easy to replace," said Andrews. "They put the time in over the summer and that's why we got this far. What a foundation they've been able to set for the younger class."
Andrews said Delich was at home recovering from the surgery he had Monday.
"We hope Don has a speedy recover," Andrews said. "Obviously his presence was missed tonight, emotionally and physically. And the girls really wish they could have brought one home for him."
Smith 0-0-0-0, Reimer 3-0-0-6, Mummey 0-0-0-0, Meinhart 0-0-0-0, Rinfret 5-3-4-14, Farquhar 1-0-0-2, Snyder 0-0-2-0, Hay 3-2-4-9. TOTALS: 12-5-10-31.
McCann 1-1-1-3, Troyan 1-0-0-3, Bross 0-0-0-0, Hollawell 1-0-0-3, Guman 1-0-0-2, Smith 1-0-0-2, Middleton 0-0-0-0, Wehr 0-0-0-0, Kocsis 3-0-0-9, Kinek 11-2-6-25, Fronheiser 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 19-3-7-47.
Palmerton 8 8 4 11 – 31
Cent. Catholic 6 13 10 18 – 47
Three-pointers: P – Rinfret 1, Hay 1; CC – Kocsis 3, Troyan 1, Hollawell 1, Kinek 1.