Northwestern girls win Sportsfest title
NANCY SCHOLZ/Special to THE TIMES NEWS Northwestern's Trista Cunningham goes up for a shot during Lehigh Valley Sports Fest's final against Northwestern. The Lady Tigers came up with the win to take the title.
The road to the SportsFest title game wasn't easy for Northwestern. In the Lady Tigers' way were five different Lehigh Valley Conference teams.
Northwestern went 6-0 against those five LVC teams to claim this year's SportsFest girls basketball title, beating Nazareth 44-34 in the championship game.
"It's big for us," said Northwestern senior Sara Jones, who earned the tournament Most Valuable Player for her performance. "It's big for the Colonial League to beat those LVC schools because we're always the underdogs.
"We're playing the best basketball we've ever played."
The Tigers started the event last Friday night with a 45-38 win over Nazareth. The Blue Eagles bounced back to win eight loser's bracket games and reach Sunday's final.
Northwestern returned Saturday to beat Northampton, 27-16, and Emmaus, 34-23. On Sunday they took out Whitehall, 38-27, and Parkland, 39-31, to earn a spot in the final.
The semifinal win over the Trojans earned Northwestern revenge for last week's Stellar Tournament loss.
In the final, the Tigers fell behind early but took the lead midway through the first half. They tried to pull away, but their biggest lead through the first 30 minutes of play was a 21-16 advantage they got on a Sabrina Mertz three-pointer early in the second half.
Nazareth closed the gap to 30-29 before the Tigers finally got some separation.
Northwestern's Trista Cunningham scored two baskets on a 9-0 run that was capped by an Erica Thomas three-pointer for a 39-29 lead with under nine minutes of running clock left.
The Blue Eagles never got closer than eight points the rest of the way.
"It feels amazing," said Cunningham, who scored 10 points and pulled down nine rebounds. "I can't even describe it. We're all so happy. We all worked so hard for this."
Jones had 13 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two blocks in the title game. She refused to claim all the credit in earning the MVP trophy.
"It feels awesome," she said. "They gave it to me, but there are so many other players out there. Everything comes from my team and my coaches. It's a big team MVP is how I look at it."
The win will give the Tigers a huge boost of confidence heading into next winter. With four starters back, one key player returning from injury and several freshmen and sophomores that can contribute, expectations are high for the 2012-13 season.
"We have a lot of confidence," said Cunningham. "We have a bunch of freshmen coming in that add a lot to the team. We're going to have pretty much depth. We're going to be looking for that title."