Tigers seek payback against No. Schuylkill Lady Spartans
A lot of teams don't like more than a full week off between postseason games.
Northwestern head coach Chris Deutsch believes it could be just what the doctor ordered. His team could use a few days to recover from Friday night's devastating loss in the Colonial League semifinals.
The ninth-year head coach called it the toughest locker room he's ever walked into after defeat.
"It's going to be hard to pick everyone up," Deutsch said. "That was a tough loss. Having to wait until Saturday is good for us. By Saturday we'll be ready to go."
The Tigers had two days off after the loss. They practiced Monday and scrimmaged Parkland Tuesday. Neither the practice or the scrimmage went as well as Deutsch and his staff would have liked, but he is confident things will get better by the time No. 4 seed Northwestern (20-2) heads to Pottsville's Martz Hall for Saturday's 7 p.m. tip off against No. 5 North Schuylkill (19-4).
If the Tigers are not ready, they'll be in for a long night. The Lady Spartans play relentless defense. They bring a full-court press all game, every game.
After a 19-3 regular season, as well as a 10-2 campaign in Schuylkill League's Division I, the Spartans fell to top-seeded Tri Valley in the first round of the league playoffs.
North Schuylkill averaged 51.7 points this season while allowing just over 30. Nearly all of its offense is created by the pressure defense.
"They're aggressive and physical," Deutsch said. "They try to wear you down. Ball handling against their pressure defense will be important for us. We want to push it when we can, but if we have to set up then we will set up."
The Tigers (22-2) have faced some very good pressure defense this season and handled it well. Northwestern has three starters that have seen time at point guard in their careers (Sabrina Mertz, Sara Jones and Sarah Segan) as well as a forward who handles the ball efficiently in the open floor in Kaleen Suter.
The Spartans play a 10-player rotation with none averaging more than 8.6 points per game and eight players averaging three or more. Carly Gregas is the team's leading scorer.
The Tigers fell to North Schuylkill in last year's first round, ending their season with two straight playoff losses - one in leagues the next in districts.
Deutsch feels his team got pushed around by North Schuylkill last year. He's not worried about that this year.
With one more year of maturity, a couple solid senior leaders and roster full of scrappy, gritty, tough and talented players, the Tigers could turn out to be the aggressors this time around.
"We're not a soft team," Deutsch said.
The Spartans will surely have the fans behind them, as well as a rowdy student section right behind the basket, a staple at Martz Hall playoff games.
The Tigers have drawn great support this season and are looking for the Tiger Pack to show up in force Saturday.
While last year's playoff meeting was in New Tripoli, this time they'll play in the Spartans backyard. Deutsch doesn't mind the trip to Pottsville. His teams have won big games at Martz during his tenure, most notably the 2006 Class AA district title victory of Pine Grove.
That team, which featured three 1,000-point scorers, was the last nonschuylkill team to win the AA since Palmerton in 1997.
"I'm not surprised," he said. "Every time we have to play a Schuylkill League team [at a neutral site] it's at Martz. I think it's a great place to play. Some of our best basketball experiences have been at Martz Hall."
Deutsch is confident his team won't let that happen again. But he's cautious not to look past the Spartans and to a rematch with another bunch of Spartans.
"We realize if we get through North Schuylkill," Deutsch said. "We have an opportunity to play Southern Lehigh for a third time.
"But this first game is a very dangerous game. If you underestimate somebody in the playoffs you'll lose."