JACKSON TWP — By definition, moral victories are bittersweet.
But Rob Lombardo is willing to take this one.
Five weeks after his Seneca Valley girls basketball team was clobbered at North Allegheny 74-30, Lombardo witnessed his team fight for 32 minutes in a 40-36 loss to the visiting Tigers Thursday night.
“We were playing for respect tonight,” he said. “After a team beats you by (44) points, and what they've done to us over the last four to five years, we needed to make them respect us.
“I haven't seen us play this well on both ends of the floor all season,” he said. “It's the effort we've been waiting for.”
The Raiders (6-6, 3-4) were riding a wave of momentum late in the fourth quarter. With 54 seconds left, Paige Montrose drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key that cut the Tigers' lead to 38-36. NA then turned the ball over and Lombardo called a timeout with 48 seconds left.
Alexa Sisko's ensuing jumper did not fall and a Tiger rebound was followed by two made free throws from Abby Gonzales.
Trailing by four points, the Raiders were unable to get a shot off until just nine seconds remained. It bounced off the rim and was awarded to SV on a jump ball signal. With 6.7 seconds left, the Raiders inbounded, but could not control the ball and NA took possession as time expired.
“We begin every practice by focusing on defense,” said NA coach Sherri McConnell. “We just needed a defensive stop there at the end and we got it.”
The Raiders mounted a spirited second-half comeback to put NA on the ropes. SV was down 22-10 early in the third quarter before Meghan Hess and Abbie Trzeciak led the charge. Sisko's bucket with 5:48 left in the game capped a 19-7 run and tied the game at 29.
It wasn't the first time in the game the Tigers struggled to score points. With 3:20 left in the first half, SV held a 10-6 lead.
The Tigers had missed their first nine attempts from beyond the arc and their offense was searching for a pulse.
“NA's guards are quick, but they are also small,” said Lombardo. “We relied on our forwards in the zone defense. We told them to stick a hand in their face to make them a bit uneasy about things when they went to shoot the ball.”
It worked. At one point in the second quarter, NA was just two-of-15 from the field.
Trzeciak led the Raiders with 12 points. Brennan scored 12 for NA and Gonzales added 11.