Girls get back to CL title game
The duo of Sabrina Mertz and Sarah Segan played vital roles in helping Northwestern win last year's Colonial League championship in their junior season.
This year, in their final season on the court, the two want to end their league slate with another league title.
The Tigers took another step toward achieving that goal on Tuesday night.
Following Northwestern's biggest lead of the game at 29-17 at halftime of their Colonial League semifinals matchup against Southern Lehigh, the Spartans retook the lead in third quarter. But Northwestern's defense and a few crucial free throws down the stretch helped the No. 5 seeded Tigers upset the top-seeded Spartans, 44-40, at Catasauqua High School.
A year after downing Southern Lehigh in the championship game, the Tigers once again topped those Spartans in postseason play.
"I wanted nothing more for my senior year," Mertz said. "This was our goal right away. When we started off the season, it was to make league playoffs. We got lucky this year that there were six teams, and that we were able to come in as the fifth seed."
The Tigers face No. 2 seed Notre Dame (Green Pond) in the championship on Friday at Freedom High School at 6 p.m.
After a 0-4 start in the league play, having some doubt about returning to the championship game, and league playoffs for that matter, would have been normal.
But the newly formatted six-team tournament gave the Tigers a chance. They took that opportunity and ran with it.
"At the beginning of the year, I didn't think that we could get to this spot," Segan said. "We were not playing very good basketball. We came such a long way, and that's what makes the team great.
"It was a little bit of doubt. The beginning was hard, but then we slowly started making our way up. That's when we knew we had the heart and knew we could do it."
With their playoff lives at risk, the Tigers turned up the defense over the final eight minutes. The Spartans, who shot just 1-of-10 in the fourth, got their final field goal with a little less than six minutes remaining on the clock.
The Tigers' free throw shooting wasn't the best down the stretch (7-of-17 in the fourth), but Mertz hit three of four in the final 51 seconds to secure the win.
"Only keeping them to five points, that is something that you want from a team," Segan said. "Especially when it's getting close, you don't want them to score."
Mertz and Segan, who each scored a team-high 15 points, both had their shining moments when the Tigers needed it most.
Watching the Tigers' offense struggle for much of the first period, which led to a 9-4 Spartan lead five minutes in, Mertz took over in the scoring department. The senior guard scored the next nine points, including a three-pointer with 32 seconds to play in the quarter, that gave the Tigers a 13-9 lead after one.
That momentum carried into the second quarter with Segan, who scored 10 and helped grow the Tigers' lead to 12 points at the break. She scored the final eight of the half.
"My team kept setting great screens, and I was able to come off of them and hit some shots," Mertz said. "In the second half when I wasn't feeling it as much and they were face-guarding me more, we had so many people step up. That's why we were able to win tonight because we had so many girls contribute."
A five-game winning streak propelled Northwestern into the league tournament. They kept it going with a 53-32 win over Saucon Valley in Saturday's first round.
With the comfort of an early 13-0 lead in the first quarter and an 18-5 advantage following the first eight minutes of play, the Tigers were held off a late Panther run to secure a 53-32 win in the Colonial League quarterfinals on Saturday night.
"We've been working our butts off the last couple of games," said Erika Thomas, who scored a game-high 17 points. "At practices, we were really trying to keep in mind that we could get here and we are capable of this."
"I think this is the best we've definitely played in a really long time," said Segan, who added 15 points. "We need to bring that energy every game and hope for another league championship."
The Tigers fell to the Spartans twice this season, but Northwestern trailed by just one point midway through the fourth quarter in a 45-36 defeat on January 22. That was their last league loss of the season.
"I think that if we keep our composure and we continue to play as a solid, unified team, we'll have no problem."
Northwestern's 32-14 lead at halftime quickly dwindled to 12 points at the end of the third quarter after the Panthers doubled-up the Tigers behind six apiece from Abigail Omdahl and Bridget O'Donnell.
Saucon Valley then trimmed the Tigers' lead to eight points early in the fourth quarter after Elyssa Okken's steal and layup just seconds after Northwestern's Sabrina Mertz exited with an injury.
But with Mertz' exit and the Tigers struggling offensively, Sarah Segan felt a need to produce some points in the pivotal fourth quarter. Segan scored eight of her 15 points in the final 6:23 that helped the Tigers hold off that Panther surge.
"Because they had high pressure, if we got the ball behind them it was a wide open shot," Segan said.
The Tigers led 13-0 early before the Panthers got on the board over five minutes into the game. Erika Thomas opened the game with three 3-pointers in the first quarter and hit five 3's for 15 points in the first half.
"My coaches have been telling me to step in and let it go when I'm feeling it," Thomas said. "I give all of the credit to my teammates because they found me when I was open."
It was the Tigers' full court pressure that doomed the Panthers, particularly in the second quarter when Saucon Valley committed eight turnovers.
"We definitely focus on defense," Thomas said. "Our coach really likes to emphasize that. We know that our defense can create our offense."
O'Donnell led the Panthers with 12 points, while Omdahl and Okken each scored nine.