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Central Catholic ends Tigers’ season

The Northwestern Lehigh boys basketball team clinched a spot in districts on the final night of the regular season with a win over Catasauqua. As the last team in for the 4A classification, the Tigers drew the toughest road, which started with Allentown Central Catholic.

While the Vikings jumped out to a big lead, Northwestern battled from behind only to see the Vikings right their ship and beat the Tigers 76-47 in the district quarterfinals.

Central Catholic had a definite height advantage over Northwestern. All five of the Vikings starters top the six-foot mark, while just two Tigers starters – Shane Marth (6’ 5”) and Mason Bollinger (6’ 1”) – hit the six-foot mark. Because of that, Northwestern stayed outside and finished with 13 three-pointers on the night, accounting for 39 of their 47 points.

The Vikings scored the first nine points of the game and kept Northwestern off the board until midway through the first quarter when Bollinger put the Tigers on the board.

Eli Zimmerman and Cayden Fitch both hit three-point shots later in the quarter, but the Vikings led 18-8 and stretched their lead to 24-8 when Lucas Mushrush scored the first six points of the second quarter, including his second of four three-pointers in the game.

The Tigers got into a three-point shooting contest with Fitch, Gavin Nelson and Zimmerman all unloading from beyond the arc in the quarter, but Central Catholic opened up a 40-19 lead by halftime.

“They’re a very good team, very athletic and have a lot of talent,” said Northwestern head coach Cory Cesare. “We knew they would be tough and they threw everything they had at us and we weren’t able to find a way to shut them down offensively.”

Nico Pilieri, who had 10 first-half points, opened up the third quarter by driving the lane and getting the basket while picking up a foul to put the Vikings up 43-19. Jahrel Vigo and Pilieri picked up back-to-back baskets and Central Catholic threatened to put the game into a running clock with their lead at 28.

The Tigers were nowhere near ready to concede anything and went back outside to prompt a run of their own. Nelson hit his second three-pointer of the night and after Marth hit a little jumper from the free-throw line, Mason Bollinger sank another three to make it 47-27 with 3:41 left in the third quarter.

When the final stanza started, Northwestern Lehigh trailed 54-32. While the Vikings took their game inside for a couple baskets, the Tigers were locked in from outside with Nelson and Zimmerman both hitting threes and Fitch dropping in a pair of three-pointers. Eventually, Central did reach the 30-point lead plateau and finished with a 29-point margin of victory.

“I am very proud of my guys and the way that they hung in there tonight and battled from behind a couple of times when they could have just given up,” Cesare said. “I think things look good for us down the road because of all the young guys we have. We lose Cayden (Fitch) next year, but he has really helped these young guys get better and I could not have asked for anymore out of him this season.”

Fitch is the only senior on a very young team that also has just one junior on the roster. Fitch hit on six three-pointers in the game for 18 points, with many of them coming from well beyond the arc. While he is disappointed with how the season ended, he also believes that the young players have better days ahead of him.

“We had some coaching changes to go through during my four years and that made it tough to get any consistency,” said Fitch. “We have a lot of good players who are going to be here for the next couple seasons, so they should be a pretty good team.”

Cesare is the third coach in the last four seasons, with Billy Hallman leaving and being replaced by Jerry Lloyd, who left just weeks before last season opened, leaving Cesare little time to put his own stamp on the team.

PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZ Cayden Fitch drives to the basket during the district playoffs.
PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZ Sophomore Gavin Nelson is one of several young players that are expected to return for the Tigers next season.