There is probably no one associated with the Lehighton boys basketball program that enjoyed Tuesday night more than Nate Kresge.
The Indians' 40-33 Mountain Valley Conference victory over Pleasant Valley featured a bench-clearing celebration on the floor and even a mini court-rush by the Lehighton student section.
There were hugs, handshakes and high fives exchanged as the Indians put an end to a five-year, 59-game MVC losing streak.
For rookie coach Rich Oertner, and players like freshman Tyler Crum and first-year basketball player Jacen Nalesnik, the losing streak was a relatively new experience. But for seniors Kresge, D.J. Rossino and Alex Guyn, the losses have been a part of their entire high school careers.
Kresge, a four-year member of the varsity, was in seventh grade the last time Lehighton won an MVC game.
During his career, Kresge has started dozens of conference games, played a ton of minutes, made huge contributions – but never got to enjoy a victory.
Until last night.
"I can't explain how happy I am right now and how good this feels," said Kresge. "We had come really close to snapping the streak a number of times this year, but kept coming up a little short.
"We knew as seniors we were running out of time to end this streak before we graduated. We didn't talk about it a lot, but I know it was in everyone's mind that we had to find a way to get it done."
The Indians got it done with a stifling defensive effort that held Pleasant Valley to 25 percent shooting from the floor (14-for-56) and 17 percent shooting from three-point range (4-for-23).
"We wanted to make them beat us from the perimeter," said Oertner about the game plan. "We said the two keys were to stop [Selwyn] Wright's penetration and make sure we knew where [Nick] Stanovick was all the time. He was the one player we wanted to make sure didn't get any open looks."
The Indians' packed in 3-2 worked to perfection allowing them to jump out to a 15-4 first quarter lead. Crum, who was starting in place of the injured James Farano, had a huge opening period with nine points and three rebounds.
Lehighton's lead was still double digits early in the third quarter and was a seemingly comfortable 33-24 with less than five minutes remaining in the game – especially with Stanovick, the Bears' leading scorer, sitting out the entire second half with an ankle injury.
Pleasant Valley (9-9, 7-3) made one final run, however, and got as close as 35-33 on Wright's steal and layup with just over two minutes remaining.
But Guyn sandwiched three free throws around a Crum breakaway layup in the final minute to seal the Indian victory.
"Bad shooting, poor offensive execution, just terrible fundamentals against the zone – we were guilty of all those things," said Pleasant Valley coach Ken Piontkowski. "I'm as miserable as miserable can be right now.
"But give Lehighton credit. They played hard and they played like they cared about winning. That's doesn't always happen with teams that are struggling late in the season. They could have been already thinking about baseball season, but they obviously weren't. Good for them."
Crum finished with 17 points to lead Lehighton (2-17, 1-9). Nalesnik added eight points.
"I've been a part of the varsity program for four years and this is definitely the highlight," said Kresge. "I'm really happy for everyone in the program that we were able to get it done.
"Even though the work we've been putting in hadn't paid off in many wins this year, we never stopped working hard and believing we were close to breaking through. Tonight, that work paid off."
Brown 1-1-2-3, Shivers 4-0-0-11, Howard 1-0-0-2, Wright 3-0-0-6, Dekmar 1-0-0-2, Gerolimatos 0-0-0-0, Jones 2-0-0-4, Stanovick 2-0-2-5. TOTALS: 14-1-4-33.
Rossino 0-0-1-0, Kresge 3-0-0-6, D.J. Rossino 1-0-0-2, Guyn 1-5-6-7, Crum 7-2-2-17, Nalesnik 3-1-1-8, Kerschner 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 15-8-10-40.
Pleasant Vy. 4 8 10 11 - 33
Lehighton 15 7 6 12 - 40
Three-pointers: PV – Shivers 3, Stanovick 1. L – Crum 1, Nalesnik 1.