The Nazareth Area High School girls basketball team’s quest for a three-peat has led to a third encounter with Easton.
The top-seeded Blue Eagles defeated No. 4 Northampton, another very familiar opponent, 53-42 in the District 11 Class 6A semifinals at Catasauqua High School on Monday night.
Nazareth (22-4) advances to meet the Red Rovers, who topped Parkland 51-31, in the district championship 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Freedom High School. The Konkrete Kids will meet the Trojans at 6 p.m. in the consolation final.
To get a shot at winning its third straight district title, the Blue Eagles had to triumph in their fourth meeting with Northampton (16-9) this season.
Nazareth led the entire second half on Monday and used a six-point streak, capped by a putback from senior Jessica Durnin, to take a 31-23 advantage with two minutes left in the third quarter.
The Blue Eagles led by as many as 15 in the fourth after an 8-0 run put the game out of reach. Senior Tessa Brugler passed the ball to classmate Grace Stevens, who was all alone and screaming for a pass in the paint, to set up the basket that gave Nazareth a 46-31 lead with five minutes left.
“We have so much momentum, especially beating a good team like Northampton,” Durnin said. “I think it just gets us ready for the championship. We’re really excited for it.”
The Blue Eagles are now 3-1 against the Konkrete Kids this winter.
“We didn’t let them get a lot of easy looks, like we have in the past sometimes,” Nazareth coach Rich Bickert said. “We made some shots early and I think that opened up the inside a little bit. We rebounded well – that was a big key – and our bench played really well.”
Durnin, a West Chester University recruit, finished with a game-high 18 points. The Bucknell-bound Brugler had 12 points for the Blue Eagles.
“I was going off of everyone’s energy,” Durnin said. “That’s the big thing for our team. We all have positive energy, we all work off each other and I think that’s how everyone is so successful.”
Bickert was also pleased with the production he got beyond his top two scorers. Fellow starters Madison Amy and Juliann Duignam each had seven points, and eight players broke into the scoring column overall.
“We can’t rely on two people scoring all the time,” he said. “I think we got quite a few other kids involved tonight and that was big. That’s what we need against Easton.”
The Blue Eagles have cranked up their preparation during the postseason, according to Durnin.
“The biggest key thing was that at practice we really stepped it up and started pushing each other a lot more than we did the whole season,” the senior said. “That’s really showing on the court now.”
That needs to continue in the days before the third installment with Easton, if Nazareth is going to reverse a regular-season (42-35) and Eastern Pennsylvania Conference semifinal (49-31) defeat.
“We’ll have to go back to the drawing board and see what the tapes look like from the last couple of games,” Bickert said.
Both clashes between the rivals have been contentious. Durnin feels the Blue Eagles know what to expect at this point.
“Keep our heads, that’s the No. 1 thing. Easton really gets in our heads,” she said. “We talked a lot about it in practice and we’re working with it. So, I think we should be ready for them.”
“Hopefully, we’ll keep our composure,” Bickert said. “That’s the biggest key. If we do that, we should be OK.”
This winter’s results haven’t gone Nazareth’s way against the Red Rovers. Recent history, however, is on their side as the Blue Eagles vie for their fourth D-11 championship in five years. Easton has earned one district title in its history and it came in 1999.
“I keep preaching 32 minutes – that’s what it takes at this time of the year,” Bickert said. “It’s worked 3 out of the last 4 years. Hopefully, it will work one more year.”
Kyle Craig may be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @KyleCraigSports. Find Lehigh Valley high school sports on Facebook.
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