The Northern Lehigh boys basketball team needed to come into Friday night's District 11 AAA consolation match-up with North Schuylkill with a sense of urgency. The Bulldogs dropped their last two contests coming into their game, losing to Bangor in the Colonial League semifinals and Wilson in the District 11 AAA semis.
It's safe to say that the Bulldogs didn't want to make it three in a row, especially since a loss that would send them packing into the off-season. Fortunately, Northern Lehigh's determination to stay alive paid off in big dividends as it handled the Spartans for a 49-34 victory to advance to the PIAA State Playoffs.
A big concern for Northern Lehigh head coach Jeff Miller was the physical play of North Schuylkill. With his team getting beat up a little bit by Wilson a couple nights before, his concerns were certainly relevant. However, the three-headed monster of 6-6 Lucas Pierce, 6-5 Caleb Johnson, and 6-2 Devin Glose erased Miller's concerns early on in the ball game. The trio battled their way to a dominant first half on the boards combining for 20 rebounds.
"We talked about how key it was for us to come out and match their tenacity," said Miller. "We physically controlled the boards in the first half. In the second half we did a pretty good job as well and that was with Lucas (Pierce) and Caleb (Johnson) on the bench for a lot of minutes due to foul trouble."
The Bulldogs (20-5) had some unlikely heroes on the night in Josh Eden and Josh Landsberger, who grabbed multiple important rebounds as the game wore on in the second half. Landsberger was the offensive star of the two scoring nine points.
Another reason for Northern Lehigh's success was its defense. The Bulldogs' 2-3 match-up zone gave the opposition fits all night. They also kept North Schuylkill sharp shooters Jake Rakowsky (five points) and Damon Meyer (five points) at bay, along with holding Spartan's leading scorer Brandon McCloskey (four points) off the boards and off the map.
"The difference tonight was our defense," said Miller. "We knew we had to stop Meyer and Rakowsky and we knew our length could work to our advantage. We contested their shots and when they missed their attempts we took away their second chances. I think this was one of the more intense nights of defense we played all year and it showed."
North Schuylkill (16-9) actually hung around for the first half despite its rebounding and offensive struggles. The Spartans were only down by six at the half.
The third quarter however, belonged to the Bulldogs as they outscored North Schuylkill 16-8 in the frame and forced eight turnovers.
"We made a little run before the half to close within six and then they turned around and made a run on us," said Spartan's head coach Kurt Ziegmont. "A lot of this loss is on us and we made some mistakes down the stretch. They're a good athletic team and we knew they would be ready to play after losing their last two games."
Devin Glose and Lucas Pierce paced the Bulldogs with 13 and 12 points respectively.
With the victory, Northern Lehigh will now play the District 2 AAA champion next Friday night.
Hughes 1-0-0-3, Rakowsky 2-0-2-5, Meyer 2-0-0-5, Motsney 0-0-0-0, Damiter 3-3-3-9, Robbins 0-0-1-0, McCloskey 2-0-2-4, Walsh 3-0-0-8, Kovac 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 13-3-8-34.
George 0-2-4-2, Dibilio 2-2-3-6, Pristash 0-0-0-0, Glose 3-5-7-13, Eden 4-1-1-9, Landsberger 1-1-2-3, Johnson 2-0-0-4, Pierce 6-0-0-12. TOTALS: 18-11-17-49.
North Schuylkill 5 9 8 12 - 34
Northern Lehigh 11 9 16 13 - 49
Three-pointers: NS - Walsh 2, Meyer 1, Rakowsky 1, Hughes 1; NL - Glose 2.