Raiders beat ACC for 3A title
ron gower/times news Tamaqua's Amy Zehner, Stacy Wallace, Ali Updike and Cassie Eroh celebrate their District 11 championship victory over Allentown Central Catholic.
OREFIELD - Tamaqua knew it was taking a risk the way it defended Allentown Central Catholic standout Kerry Kinek.
The reward was a third straight District 11 championship for the Lady Raiders and an end to the Vikettes' 11-year reign.
The second seeded Raiders scored the first five points in overtime, then held off top-seeded Central Catholic for a 46-42 victory and the District 11 Class AAA title Saturday afternoon at Parkland High School.
Tamaqua remained undefeated, improving to 27-0 to tie the school record for consecutive wins set by the 1976-77 team.
The Raiders will get a chance to break that tie in the PIAA State playoffs on Saturday when they face Scranton Prep (22-4), the number three team out of District 2, at 4:30 p.m. at Martz Hall, Pottsville.
Tamaqua, the two-time Schuylkill League champion, had captured the last two D-11 Class AA crowns before moving up to AAA this season, putting it on a collision course with the Vikettes (23-4), the Lehigh Valley Conference champions, who had won 28 consecutive 11-AAA playoff games.
Prior to Saturday, the Raiders faced ACC four times in the District playoffs between 2000 and 2006, losing all four, by an average of 26.7 points. They carried the weight of that history and wrote a different outcome, one unexpected by others but not by themselves.
"It was destiny," said Tamaqua coach Joe Berezwick. "Our kids were in the right place at the right time. They had confidence and they didn't waver.
"Central Catholic has a legendary program. This is one of the biggest wins in the program's history, since the State championship the program's history, since the State championship (Class AA, 1977-78), and it was probably the best 4-1/2 quarters we've played since I've been here."
"We believed," said Raider senior forward Amy Zehner, who led the way with 18 points. "We came in here believing the whole game we had a chance, and for a change, the pressure was on them.
"My sister Lori was here in 2000 when their streak started, so I was playing for her and all the Tamaqua teams that got their butts kicked by Central over the years."
"Joe's a great coach and he has an outstanding team," said ACC mentor Mike Kopp. "You can tell his seniors had a sense of urgency out there, and that was the difference.
"We had opportunities, but we didn't shoot well at the foul line (8-for-17) and that hurt us."
The Raiders weathered an early storm as ACC shot out to a 9-2 lead, but the Bucknell-bound Zehner hit two free throws and scored on a drive to cut it to 9-6 after one quarter.
Two straight driving buckets by sophomore Maria Streisel gave Tamaqua its first edge at 10-9, and the lead went back and forth before ending in a 14-all deadlock at half.
Key to the Raiders' game plan was to double down on Kinek, the Vikettes' 6-0 junior center who averages 19 points per game, with the 5-10 Zehner fronting her and 5-7 senior Allison Updike helping out in the paint.
Kinek scored 17 points, but no other Vikette scored more than six, even though the perimeter was often left open.
"We took a chance with risk and reward," explained Berezwick. "We looked at Allison and Amy to guard Kinek, but we knew how good a player she was, so it was unfair for either of those two to have the burden alone."
The strategy worked until Katie Troyan came off the bench and hit back to back triples to give ACC a 30-26 lead with 6:08 left in the fourth quarter.
Maria Streisel came up with another of her seven steals, which was turned into a Zehner hoop, and Cassie Eroh drained a deep triple to put the Raiders back in front 31-30 with 3:25 left in the fourth.
The score was tied three times as regulation closed, the last at 35 on a Kinek drive with 29.5 left. Kinek was fouled and missed the free throw, but the Raiders didn't get a shot off on their end, forcing overtime.
Zehner scored first in the OT with a runner, then Maria Streisel's theft and three-point play made it 40-35 with 3:06 remaining.
From that point, the Raiders converted 6-for-8 from the charity stripe (9-for-13 for the game) to hold off the Vikettes. Zehner tossed the ball in the air as the buzzer sounded and the Tamaqua students swarmed the court.
It's exciting beyond words," said Zehner. "Especially as a senior, to get this win over ACC, there's nothing better than this AAA title. It's a dream come true."
Hope 2-1-2-5, M. Streisel 5-1-2-11, C. Streisel 1-0-1-2, Eroh 2-0-0-5, Zehner 7-4-4-18, Updike 1-3-4-5. TOTALS: 18-9-13-46.
Troyan 2-0-0-6, Hollawell 3-0-0-6, Guman 1-0-0-2, Smith 2-2-8-6, Koscis 2-0-0-5, Kinek 5-6-9-17, Fronheiser 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 15-8-17-42.
Tamaqua 6 8 10 11 11 - 46
ACC 9 5 10 11 7 - 42
Three-pointers: T-Eroh 1; ACC-Troyan 2, Koscis 1, Kinek 1.