It was a win or go home situation for the Lehighton boys basketball team last night in East Stroudsburg.
The Indians went into their final game of the regular season with a record of 10-11, needing a win over Notre Dame East Stroudsburg to qualify for the postseason.
When it was all said and done Lehighton got the victory, controlling the game from the onset, taking care of business for a 70-50 non-league victory. With the win, the Indians will be headed to the District 11 playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Lehighton showed early that they did not want to end their season prematurely. They jumped all over the Spartans getting out to an early 10-point lead with Tyler Crum leading the charge with 10 points of his own.
Another reason for the Indians success was their ability to contain Notre Dame guard Osleby Mercer III, who has been a prolific scorer on the year. They held him to just nine points in the first half and held a commanding 31-13 lead at the break.
"We had some success with a triangle and two against Tamaqua recently, so we figured that we give it a shot tonight," said Lehighton coach Rich Oertner. "We were able to frustrate them a little bit and get them out of their comfort zone, but Mercer is a great player. Defensively, we just did a nice job, especially our two back row guys. They did a great job of getting out when they had to and staying home when they didn't have to. Having the four or five days to prepare really helped."
Offensively, the Indians were efficient to say the least. They shot 7-for-11 from the field in the first quarter and showed throughout the entire ball game that getting to the bucket was the priority. Case and point Lehighton went to the line a total of 34 times and had over a 50 percent field goal percentage on the evening.
"If you want to win you have to get layups and that's what we got," said Oertner. "We also got them in foul trouble because our kids were going strong to the basket. That was our plan from the get go. I felt our six guys held the advantage over their six, so I figured if we got the ball inside we would get them in some foul trouble."
Oertner's gameplan came to fruition as Mercer and his backcourt mate Will Worthington both picked up their fourth fouls early in the final frame.
The Spartans actually made a little run in the fourth. They closed within 12 around the three minute mark, but on the very next possession Mercer picked up his fifth foul, ending any hope of a Notre Dame comeback.
Lehighton will now head to Southern Lehigh for the eight vs. nine match-up. Southern Lehigh finished the season 11-11 as well on the year.
"I challenged the kids in the beginning of the season," said Oertner. "I told them I expected us to win eight to ten games this season and I told them to prove me wrong. The kids did just that and got some big wins throughout the year to get us here."
Crum Led the Indians with 22 points, Anthony Rossino netted 17, and Jordan Knappenberger chipped in with 12.
For the Spartans Mercer III finished with 18, with Mike Sheptuk adding 12, and Worthington tallying 11.
Rossino 7-3-5-17, Farano 1-2-4-5, Crum 6-10-15-22, J. Knappenberger 4-2-6-12, Mele 3-2-2-8, Nalesnik 2-2-2-6. TOTALS: 23-21-34-70.
NOTRE DAME ES
Carney 0-0-0-0, Orender 1-0-2-3, Worthington 3-2-2-11, Mercer 6-6-10-18, Duffy 0-0-0-0, Farley 3-0-0-6, Sheptuk 6-0-0-12. TOTALS: 19-8-14-50.
Lehighton 17 14 17 22 - 70
Notre Dame ES 10 3 16 21 - 50
Three-pointers: L - J. Knappenberger 2, Farano 1; ND - Worthington 3, Orender1.