Northern Lebanon s Emily Brandt floats up a shot to the rim between Annville-Cleona defenders Elaina Wanamaker, left, and Alex Siebecker while being fouled
Northern Lebanon s Emily Brandt floats up a shot to the rim between Annville-Cleona defenders Elaina Wanamaker, left, and Alex Siebecker while being fouled on the play. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS ASHLEY WALTER)
ANNVILLE - As is the case with many teams at this early stage of the scholastic basketball season, the Northern Lebanon and Annville-Cleona girls are engaged in a struggle to find their best form and true identity.

It may sound overly pessimistic, but it's a struggle that appears to be growing increasingly frustrating.

Both teams made minimal progress in their respective quests on Friday, but Northern Lebanon made a little more and is feeling slightly more positive about things after managing a 30-21 victory in a missed-shot-filled Lancaster-Lebanon League Section Three-Four crossover contest at A-C High School.

Now 3-1 overall and 1-0 in Section Three after the opening night of L-L play, the Vikings secured the win largely on the strength of a 12-3 run through the third quarter led by six very important points from senior center Kristen Lessing. That burst qualified as an offensive explosion in a matchup that featured A-C inching to a 12-10 halftime lead and the teams trading turnovers and more missed shots in a fourth quarter that was a mighty struggle for both squads.

But hey, both teams did play good defense and competed like crazy. It was just hard to notice in the haze of errant shots and shoddy offensive execution.

"Honestly, I thought we really played defense," said NL coach Ken Battistelli, putting the best possible face on his club's performance. "Neither team executed offense well, but I thought they played good defense (too). I told (the Vikings), it's gotta feel fun when you come to a game like this and fight your tail off and manage to win. Because they fought. Those kids played defense for four quarters and we found a way to win. But we were far from the promised land."

The Vikes were, however, closer to it than A-C, which started off reasonably well with a 10-8 lead at the end of the first quarter, then managed just 11 points the rest of the way en route to falling to 1-2 overall and 0-1 in Section Four.

"You can't beat many teams if you don't make shots," chuckled A-C coach Jaime Walborn, "and we didn't make anything. But we played great 'D', held 'em to 30 points. But we missed a lot of easy buckets, and we let their pressure defense - which I didn't think was great, I thought we could have easily handled it - affect us.

"We had good shots, especially in the first half, and we were running our offense. But they weren't falling. And mentally, I don't think we could get back out of that. We weren't very mentally tough."

Physically and emotionally, though, A-C was engaged in the contest, particularly prior to intermission. Strong defense from junior guard Alex Siebecker on NL floor leader Emily Brandt combined with two nice buckets from Elaina Wanamaker provided the home team with a 10-8 lead after the opening eight minutes.

The Vikings  Kristen Lessing gets off a shot in a crowd of Dutchmen that includes Elaina Wanamaker, center, and Kayla Parks.
The Vikings Kristen Lessing gets off a shot in a crowd of Dutchmen that includes Elaina Wanamaker, center, and Kayla Parks. (LEBANON DAILY NEWS ASHLEY WALTER)

The second quarter, however, was a disaster for both teams when the ball was in their hands, with the only points coming from a layup by A-C's Barbara Inman and two free throws from Brandt, who would end up tallying 10 of her game-high 13 points at the foul line.

"It's probably my fault," Battistelli quipped, while speaking of his team's scoring struggles. "We made a change to our motion offense, because I thought it suited our talent. But we might be having some growing pains getting used to it. We used to run a traditional three-out, two-in motion offense, and now we're more of a four-out, one-in. And we're not executing it that well. We're gonna have to iron that out."

The Vikes temporarily removed a few wrinkles in the third quarter, courtesy of Lessing's six points and four more from Mariah LiBrandi and stuck A-C in a 22-15 hole entering the fourth quarter. Given A-C's difficulties, the deficit appeared at least twice as large as it actually was.

"It's very frustrating," Walborn said. "You want them to trust you, that the thing you're putting in offensively are working if they're patient and run it. We didn't take the opportunities that their defense gave us."

And that was all NL needed to keep the lead while turning in a shaky fourth-quarter offensive performance of its own.

A Wanamaker jumper with 4:36 left brought A-C to within six at 23-17, but all the home team could manage the rest of the way a Siebecker steal and layup with 1:50 to go and a Kayla Parks bucket in the final minutes.

Meanwhile, Brandt was dragging the Vikes to the finish line by hitting eight of 10 free throw attempts in the fourth. And in doing so, at least put Battistelli and his club in a positive frame of mind as they continued to sort out their offensive problems.

"If we were struggling and we weren't 3-1, everybody would be miserable," he said. "But having some success gives you the will to keep plugging and working on it. I'm not saying that anybody would give up, but it makes you want to go to work the next day."