Northwestern Press

Thursday, June 4, 2020
PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZDeven Bollinger is one of several seniors on the Northwestern basketball team who hopes to keep the season alive with a district playoff win. PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZDeven Bollinger is one of several seniors on the Northwestern basketball team who hopes to keep the season alive with a district playoff win.

Boys prepare for Becahi

Thursday, February 20, 2020 by CHUCK HIXSON Special to the Press in Sports

When the Northwestern Lehigh boys take to the court Friday night at Whitehall High School, it will have been 17 days since they played their final regular season game.

At that point, the team was worn down physically and the flu was starting to take its toll on some of the players. Emotionally, the Tigers were worn down a little as well, having come up short on making the Colonial League playoffs.

The Tigers spent their time off getting healthy, with coach Billy Hallman scheduling a couple of days off from practice during that stretch.

They also played a couple of scrimmages against solid East Penn Conference teams and switched up their practice routines a little to keep things fresh. The result is a team that is healthy, rested and has fresh legs coming into the District 11 Class 4A tournament where it opens play against Bethlehem Catholic (12-10) in the first round.

Hallman also used the time off to look at video of the Golden Hawks and come up with a strategy on how to beat them to advance to the second round of playoffs and gain a spot in the state playoffs. Like Northwestern, the Hawks didn’t make their league playoffs either, so they’ve had time to regroup as well.

“I think the time off did us some good,” said Hallman. “We would have rather been playing, but now we’re healthy and we have a good mind set coming into districts. The seniors are especially ready to go because they realize that we’re in a situation where if we win Friday, we get back to states and after having a taste of that last year, we really want to get back again and go deeper this time around.”

Last season, the Tigers reached states but were eliminated by Lancaster Catholic in the first round of the tournament, so a return trip would be welcomed by the team.

“It’s do or die time,” stressed Hallman. “We want to get back to states, but we have to deal with Friday first and we can’t think about what’s past that. It’s just go in and win.”

What Hallman and his staff discovered is that while Beca’s athleticism could present some issues, the size of Northwestern down low could work to the Tigers’ advantage. The Tigers hope to be able to pound the ball inside to seniors Deven Bollinger and Luke Hallman, who have the strength to battle Bethlehem Catholic’s tall but lanky defenders.

“Our strength down low is going to be important, so we have guys like Deven and Luke, and even Andres Garrido when he’s in there, to pound away a little bit,” said Hallman. “If we can do that, then it will effectively wear them down and could damper their athleticism a little.

“We don’t see teams as athletic as Beca in the Colonial League, so we have to be aware of that, but at the same time, we can stand up to it if we have to.”

In the 4A district brackets, Beca is the number-two seed, while Northwestern Lehigh (11-11) is seeded seventh. Hallman and his team aren’t looking ahead, but if they do get into the semifinals, they would face the winner of the matchup between number-three seed Tamaqua (16-6) and number-six seed Pine Grove (12-10). Even though their record isn’t as good as Tamaqua’s, Bethlehem Catholic is seeded higher based on the district power ranking formula, meaning that they played a more difficult schedule than did Tamaqua.

“A lot of people think Beca had a down year, but they play really good teams in the EPC and that makes a difference,” said Hallman. “They’re not your usual 12-10 team because of the competition that they face night in and night out. The thing is that we believe we match up pretty well with them and that we just have to execute our plan. If we do that, we’ll be in good shape and keep playing.”