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NWL girls reach D-11 semi

The Lady Tigers are having to work overtime for championships this season. Not that their games are going overtime, but they are having extra games put in their way.

In the Colonial League playoffs, the power ranking formula gave Palmerton a first-round bye instead of Northwestern even though the Tigers had a better season record. No problem. Northwestern went on to win third straight league title.

Even with that championship and just one loss on the season, the Tigers came into districts as the number-three seed in the 4A classification and again had a quarterfinal round game while the top seeds – Allentown Central Catholic and North Schuylkill – had first round byes.

Not that either of the extra games had a high degree of difficulty, as the Lady Tigers downed Northern Lehigh to open league playoffs and were then set up against Saucon Valley, who finished the regular season 8-14 but were given a spot in the District 11 playoffs to be the sixth team for the 4A bracket.

While their odds were long at best, the Lady Panthers chances were diminished further by a couple of injuries, a player on a college pre-admission meeting and a couple more players who were simply unable to make it to the game. That took their roster down to six players to face Northwestern Lehigh.

“We found out just before the game that they only had six players, but you have to hand it to their girls that were able to play because they were playing hard and tried to battle,” said Northwestern head coach Chris Deutsch. “It’s just too much to try to win a playoff game with only six players, but they gave it a shot.”

Meanwhile, Deutsch had all his players available for the first time in a while. Hannah Gober returned to active duty after missing the last four games with an ankle injury. Gober saw limited action and hit two foul shots in the fourth quarter for the Lady Tigers.

Northwestern scored the first six points of the game, led by 12 after one quarter and by 23 at halftime. Before the midway point of the third quarter, the mercy rule kicked in and the Lady Tigers won their 24th straight game downing the Panthers 62-19.

Senior Paige Sevrain picked up six first-quarter points, all of them coming when she pulled down an offensive rebound and went right back up for a bucket. On her fourth defensive rebound, she was fouled on her way back up and had to settle for hitting two free throws.

In limited time, Sevrain had six rebounds and scored 13 points, tying with teammate Cara Thomas for the team lead in scoring. Thomas had nine points at halftime and picked up the other four in the third quarter shortly before being rested for the rest of the game.

Sophomore Brook Balliet finished with 10 points and dished off the ball to teammates throughout the game. To open the scoring in the second half, Balliet threaded the ball through two defenders to get it to Thomas who went in for an easy layup to make it 33-8.

Not only did Northwestern take care of business shooting from the floor but hit on nine of 12 foul shots in the game, while Saucon Valley players were unable to get to the foul line.

Senior Maci Fisher finished the game with 10 points for Northwestern Lehigh and pointed out that the team has played well throughout the season and came into the postseason ready to win games.

“We have been especially motivated by knowing that each team is coming after us,” noted Fisher. “That just keeps us hungry and motivates us to keep working harder.”

With the win, Northwestern (25-1) is guaranteed at least two more games in districts.

The Tigers will faced North Schuylkill (22-2) Wednesday in the semifinals with the winner moving on to the finals and having a spot to play in the PIAA tournament. The loser of that game, which was played after Press deadline, will play in a consolation game with the winner advancing to states, giving District 11 three teams from 4A playing for a state championship. North Schuylkill had a bye in the quarterfinals as the number-two seed.

“We have a lot of video on them (North Schuylkill),” said Deutsch. “I think we have 10 games, so we know what they like to do and will have some ways to approach them. They like to press a lot, so we will have to work on that, and they do some other things well that we will need to be aware of, but we’ll be ready and then move on to the next game and hopefully, get to states.”

With one more win, the Lady Tigers will be playing in the PIAA tournament for the first time since 2006 when they were District 11 champions in the 2A classification. That season, Northwestern was 23-5 going into states and lost to powerhouse Trinity 65-43 in the second round after beating Carbondale in their opening game.

PRESS PHOTO BY LINDA ROTHROCK Paige Sevrain looks to get to the basket during a district playoff win over Saucon Valley.