Raiders surprise Bulldogs
NANCY SCHOLZ/Special to THE TIMES NEWS Tamaqua's Brett Kosciolek (24) reaches above the outstretchd hand of Northern Lehigh's Cale Jonson for a rebound during their District 11 3A First Round battle on Tuesday night. The Raiders pulled out a 47-44 victory to avenge an earlier loss when the two met in the regular season.
Tweaking the game plan wasn't going to do it.
Minor adjustments weren't going to be enough.
No, when you're trying to reverse a 16-point regular season setback, the game plan has to be gashed and the adjustments have to be major.
That's the situation Tamaqua faced in the opening round of the District 11 Class AAA boys basketball playoffs on Tuesday - and that's exactly what Tamaqua did.
It was obviously the right decision.
Playing a zone defense for one of the few times the entire year, the 10th-seeded Raiders upset 7th-seeded Northern Lehigh, 47-44.
"That's as good as we've played the entire season," said Tamaqua coach Caszy Kosciolek, who saw his team surrender 62 points in a lopsided loss to Northern Lehigh just a little over a month ago.
"We've only played zone in a couple of games this season," said Kosciolek. "But we had a hard time matching up with Northern Lehigh's size the first time we played them. That's why we decided we had to do something different.
"We wanted to come in with guns blazing and going for broke. We didn't want to be conservative and afraid to take a chance. We haven't played much zone this year, but we felt it gave us our best chance so we were going with it."
Kosciolek thought his team's zone - a 2-2-1 that flattened into a 1-3-1 - left the Bulldogs tentative.
"I thought we executed extremely well defensively," said Kosciolek. "I felt our intensity and movement on defense had Northern Lehigh on its heels a little bit.
"Considering the amount of zone we had played previously, it says a lot about our kids to play it as well as we did tonight. I couldn't be more proud of their performance."
Northern Lehigh's offensive struggles were reflected in its shooting percentages. The Bulldogs shot just 30 percent (19-for-63) from the field and 18 percent (3-for-17) from three-point range.
"We just didn't make shots," said Northern Lehigh coach Jeff Miller. "Give Tamaqua credit. They did a nice job defensively.
"But I thought we got a lot of good looks, especially in the first half. We just couldn't knock them down."
The Bulldogs held a 13-9 lead midway through the second quarter when Caleb Johnson went to the bench after picking up his second foul.
With Johnson out of the game for the final 4:46 of the half, Tamaqua outscored the Bulldogs 13-2 to take a 22-15 halftime lead.
"Caleb is so important for us," said Miller. "Tamaqua really took advantage of him being out of the game in the second quarter.
"The two biggest nightmare scenarios for us are Caleb getting in foul trouble and Josh Eden (4-for-17) having a bad shooting game … and both those things happened tonight."
Despite those problems, it looked like the Bulldogs were starting to flex their muscles and take control of the game in the third quarter. Spearheaded by Johnson's relentless work on the offensive boards, Northern Lehigh turned its seven-point halftime deficit into a 26-24 lead with just over two minutes left in the third quarter.
But just when Tamaqua appeared to be in trouble, the Bulldogs threw the ball out of bounds on a breakaway that would have increased their lead and the Raiders' Brett Kosciolek answered with a pair of long three-pointers to stem the tide.
"I was really happy with the way our young team kept its composure," said coach Kosciolek. "This is the program's first District 11 playoff appearances in almost a decade. That means none of our kids have any postseason experience.
"To be out there in this type of atmosphere is something we haven't dealt with before. But our kids welcomed the moment."
Tamaqua continued to make plays down the stretch as a Bo Rottet three-pointer snapped a 37-37 tie with 3:35 remaining, giving the Raiders a lead they would never surrender.
Thanks to four more free throws by Rottet and a jumper by Adam Frantz, Tamaqua stretched the advantage to 46-40 with less than a minute to play.
Northern Lehigh (14-9) kept battling as baskets by Matt Egan and Johnson made it 46-44 with :20 to play. A missed Tamaqua free throw with :11 left gave the Bulldogs the ball back with a chance to tie or win it, but they never got off a shot as a turnover near midcourt ended their hopes.
"We had kids up and down the lineup step up and make big plays," said coach Kosciolek. "Adam (Frantz) had a huge basket late in the game, Bo (Rottet) made some critical shots when we needed them, and Brett hit a number of big threes in that second half. It was a great team win."
The victory sends the Raiders (14-9) into the quarterfinal round against 2nd-seeded Allentown Central Catholic on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Northampton High School.
Rottet 5-4-6-17, Chartier 1-1-2-3, Krell 0-0-0-0, Frantz 4-0-0-8, Ty. Skripko 1-0-0-2, Kosciolek 7-0-0-17, Ch. Hartung 0-0-0-0. TOTALS: 18-5-8-47.
Egan 2-0-0-5, Dibilio 2-0-0-4, Eden 4-0-0-9, Landsberger 2-0-1-4, Johnson 5-0-0-10, Pierce 4-3-4-12. TOTALS: 19-3-5-44.
Tamaqua 9 13 10 15 - 47
No. Lehigh 10 5 18 11 - 44
Three-pointers: T - Kosciolek 3, Rottet 3. NL - Egan 1, Eden 1, Pierce 1.