The two biggest focal points written on Tamaqua's lockerroom chalkboard were "Defense" and "Rebounding."
The Blue Raiders' hands were going to be full against a tall and offensively-gifted Northern Lehigh squad in a non-league contest. Those focal points were the hosts' trouble areas, as Northern Lehigh's "Twin Towers" Lucas Pierce and Caleb Johnson combined for 39 points and nearly 20 rebounds in leading the 'Dawgs to a 62-44 win.
"We had two things written on the board for the guys before the game," Tamaqua head coach Caszy Kosciolek said after the game. "Defense and rebounds were the two most important things we needed to concentrate on. Going against a team that's as highly-skilled and well-coached as Northern Lehigh, we knew it would be a huge challenge. It turned out that the physicality of Johnson and Pierce gave us problems."
Pierce exploded for 22 points in the first half as Northern Lehigh built a 37-18 lead. Johnson took his turn in the third, where he scored seven points, sealing things up.
"When (Pierce) is playing with confidence and his shots are dropping like they've been, he's a tough match-up," Northern Lehigh head coach Jeff Miller said. "He just had one of those nights. He works hard and deserves it."
In the first frame, the Bulldogs pulled out to a 20-11 lead off the strength of runs of six and eight points. Pierce hit all but one of his field goal attempts for 12 points, and a nice alley-oop at the buzzer from Tyler Dibilio to Johnson ended the stanza. Two threes from Tamaqua's Brett Kosciolek kept things close.
Pierce tallied 10 more points and Johnson added four in the second quarter as the Bulldogs lead grew to 19 points..
The Bulldog defense enforced the pressure, causing nine first-half turnovers for the Blue Raiders.
Northern Lehigh maintained a comfortable lead throughout the second half as they improved their overall record to 10-1..
Tamaqua, which drops to 3-8 on the season, has Panther Valley Friday and knows what needs to be adjusted.
"Northern Lehigh beat us in transition and got some easy opportunities and we are going to need to fix that for Friday," Kosciolek said. "We also need to do a better job rebounding."
Meanwhile, Nolehi heads for an interesting meeting at Notre Dame of Green Pond on the same night.
"Notre Dame has a tough man-to-man defense so we need to be ready for that," Miller said. "If we can limit the turnovers and stop transition, we should do alright against them."
In the JV contest, Northern Lehigh won 51-48 on the strength of Matt Egan's 17 points. Zach Wargula led the junior Raiders with 20.
George 0-0-0-0, Egan 0-0-0-0, Dibilio 2-2-2-7, J. Pristash 2-0-0-4, Glose 3-4-6-10, Eden 0-0-0-0, Hofmann 0-0-0-0, Middaugh 0-0-0-0, Landsberger 1-0-0-2, Johnson 6-1-2-13, Pierce 13-0-0-26. TOTALS: 27-6-8-62.
Nunemacher 1-0-0-3, Wargula 1-0-0-3, Fegley 4-0-0-10, B. Rottet 0-0-0-0, Frantz 1-0-0-2, Kosciolek 4-0-0-10, Kurek 4-0-0-10, D. Rottet 1-0-0-2, Krell 2-0-0-4, Skripko 0-0-0-0, Hartung 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 18-0-0-44.
Northern Lehigh 20 17 11 14 - 62
Tamaqua 11 7 13 13 - 44
Three pointers: NL - Dibilio 1; T - Fegley 2, Kurek 2, Kosciolek 2, Nunemacher 1, Wargula 1.