ORWIGSBURG – The Schuylkill League basketball playoffs begin on February 14, more than two weeks away.
Yet last night in Orwigsburg, Jim Thorpe and Blue Mountain put on a show that felt just like "Martz Madness."
Playing in a hostile playoff atmosphere on the road, the Olympians not only avenged their lone loss of the season (a 41-35 setback to Blue Mountain on January 3), but they also made the race for the Schuylkill League Division 1 Championship a lot more interesting with a 45-41 victory over the Eagles.
Both teams are now tied atop the Division with 8-1 records with three games to play. Jim Thorpe plays Pottsville, Pine Grove and Tamaqua, while the Eagles square off against Pine Grove, Panther Valley and North Schuylkill.
"Tonight was such a big game between two great teams," stated Jim Thorpe head coach Rob Kovac. "We're both winners, we just ended up scoring more points than they did tonight."
However, it didn't look that way early on with Jim Thorpe coming out flat, missing 12 of its first 13 shots, as Blue Mountain led 13-6 after the first quarter.
"We came out tight and it showed in the early going," added Kovac. "We shot the ball terribly and Blue Mountain was controlling the boards."
However, after being held without a field goal in the first 7:55 of the contest, Jim Thorpe's Celeste Robinson (averaging 25.4 points per game) began to find her rhythm.
With nine points in the second quarter, Robinson helped close the gap to 25-20 at halftime. Then, to start the second half, Robinson scored eight straight points to lead the Olympians on an 8-0 run, en route to a 28-25 lead.
At the 4:43 mark of the third quarter, Robinson then made a little history as the senior became Jim Thorpe's all-time leading scorer when she converted a putback off an offensive rebound to break Jen Farrell's previous career scoring record set in 2001-2002.
"To become the school's all-time leading scorer and to do it on this night and in this environment is just incredible," lauded Kovac. "There's probably been over a thousand people to play basketball at Jim Thorpe and she's scored more than all of them, so that's just a testament to the type of player she is."
As Robinson was scoring at will on the offensive end, Jim Thorpe was amping up the pressure defensively. Seventeen of Blue Mountain's 29 turnovers came in the second half, and the Olympians were taking advantage.
"Celeste picked up a couple of early fouls and we really didn't get aggressive with the press in the first half," added Kovac. "In the third quarter, we started amping up the pressure and we started getting a lot of points off turnovers. It was a total team effort tonight."
Blue Mountain (15-2) regained the lead, 37-36, midway through the fourth quarter, but Robinson once again came up big with six straight points in a 45-second span to give the Olympians their largest lead of the game, 42-37.
"I couldn't have asked for anything more tonight," stated Robinson of becoming the school's all-time leading scorer in the team's biggest win of the season. "I couldn't have done this without my teammates, my coaches and my family. The support we got from our fans tonight was awesome and I'm so thankful that they were able to come out and share in this moment with us."
After scoring a season-low 15 points in their earlier meeting, Robinson scored 31 points and hauled in 15 rebounds to lead the Olympians (17-1). Shannelle Koch tallied 14 points and 12 rebounds to pace Blue Mountain (who outrebounded Jim Thorpe 57-29).
"Round one went to them, round two goes to us," concluded Kovac. "I have a pretty good feeling that we might see them again, although I'd prefer not to."
McElmoyle 1-0-0-3, Batts 1-2-6-4, Lawrence 0-3-4-3, Condly 0-0-0-0, Robinson 13-5-8-31, Mosteller 0-0-0-0, Smelas 2-0-3-4. TOTALS: 17-10-21-45.
Kerns 2-0-1-4, Koch 6-0-0-14, Grapsy 4-0-2-9, Starr 3-2-2-8, Shpakovsky 0-0-0-0, Schu 1-1-3-3, Moyer 0-0-0-0, Foster 1-1-4-3. TOTALS: 17-4-12-41.
Jim Thorpe 6 14 11 14 - 45
Blue Mountain 13 12 7 9 - 41
Three-Pointers: Jim Thorpe - McElymoyle 1; Blue Mountain - Koch 2, Grapsy 1.