Raiders top JT
RON GOWER/TIMES NEWS Tamaqua's Ali Updike gets a hand onthe ball to keep it away from Jim Thorpe's Celeste Robinson as teammate Maria Streisel also helps.
POTTSVILLE It's no secret Tamaqua is known mostly for its offensive abilities.
But in the postseason, the Lady Raiders have proven their defense can also get the job done.
In the Schuylkill League finals, Joe Berezwick's club held down a quality Tri-Valley team en route to a championship.
And on Saturday, in the quarterfinal round of the District 11 Class AAA playoffs, they did it again against Jim Thorpe.
Despite falling behind early against a determined Olympian squad, Tamaqua quickly rebounded and held their opponent to a season-low in claiming a 43-30 victory.
The win not only keeps the Raiders undefeated at 25-0 but it moves them into the semifinal round where they will face third-seeded Southern Lehigh on Wednesday.
"We're a team that likes transition," said Berezwick. "And a transition game is normally high-scoring. We understood, though, that because we couldn't do it tonight, we had to play defense.
"That doesn't mean we don't play defense at other times. It's just the style the game goes. Tonight the shots weren't going in as routinely as they sometimes do for us, but I think we made up for it at the defensive end."
Jim Thorpe (16-7) also made its defensive presence known, using a triangle-and-two to frustrate Tamaqua in the opening frame. A pair of baskets from Celeste Robinson and three-pointers from Brittany Holland and Jeanna McElmoyle quickly gave the Olympians a 10-4 advantage five minutes into the contest.
"I thought we had a decent gameplan and our kids executed it well," said Thorpe mentor Rob Kovac. "The junk we threw at them really bothered them. We did a good job on (Cassie) Eroh and (Amy) Zehner earned every point she got. I just loved the way we defended.
"Unfortunately, especially in the second half, we just didn't knock down shots. I liked the looks we got. We had that 10-12 foot range shot but we couldn't knock it down. It's a shot our girls have made this year."
Shooting 4-of-7 to gain that six-point edge, the Olympians managed just 8-of-39 the rest of the way.
"Some of our poor shooting was the way Tamaqua defended us," said Kovac. "They weren't going to let Celeste beat them. That's Coach Berezwick and his game plan. They had two, three kids running at her all the time."
While Jim Thorpe struggled after its quick start, the Raiders managed to warm up thanks in part to Christine Streisel.
The sophomore guard hit a three-pointer late in the first quarter to give her team the lead (11-10) and hit two more treys in the second frame to help the margin grow to 26-16.
"Christine was big for us in the first half," said Berezwick. "She was able to bust up the zone a little bit."
Any attempts Thorpe had of busting into Tamaqua's lead were negated by their poor shooting, good defensive rebounding by the Raiders, and Zehner's ability to drive to the basket.
Zehner, who finished with 22 points and eight rebounds, hit three inside baskets in the third quarter to help keep the Olympians at arm's length.
She added six more points in the final frame as the lead stayed at double digits.
Robinson had 10 points and eight boards for Jim Thorpe, whose previous low point total was 39 against Shenandoah.
The Olympians have only one player (Holland) graduating and are already looking forward to the future.
"Hopefully this is a great learning experience for our kids," said Kovac. "We'd like to think we can be in the position similar to Tamaqua a year from now. We have a lot back. We'd love to be in that situation of being one of the contenders for the Schuylkill League and districts.
"We got our feet wet today and we got an opportunity to see what it takes to be at the level of a Tamaqua. After today, I told the girls that I don't think the difference is that much. It's just some little things here and there. Hopefully we can close that gap for next season.
McElmoyle 2-0-0-5, Batts 0-0-0-0, Lawrence 1-0-0-3, Condly 0-0-0-0, Holland 2-1-4-7, Robinson 5-0-2-10, Mosteller 0-0-0-0, Smelas 2-1-2-5. TOTALS: 12-2-8-30.
Hope 3-0-3-6, M. Streisel 0-0-2-0, C. Streisel 3-0-0-9, Eroh 0-1-2-1, Zehner 8-6-9-22, Updike 2-0-0-5, Wallace 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 16-7-16-43.
Jim Thorpe 12 7 8 3 - 30
Tamaqua 13 13 10 7 - 43
Three-pointers: Jim Thorpe - Holland 2, McElmoyle 1, Lawrence 1; Tamaqua - C. Streisel 3, Updike 1.