Sometimes hopes and wishes don't become reality though as Mennonite took control of the see-saw game late in the fourth quarter and emerged with a 60-57 victory after Sam Light's desperation 3 with five ticks to go didn't fall.
Once the brackets were released, the Vikings, who end their season at 15-8, relished the idea of getting a little redemption for that early-season loss. Viking head coach Gary Bouchette knew it would be an entirely different game.
"We are playing a different style with different contributors (than in December)," he said.
While redemption and a different style of play were two factors entering the game, senior Pat Stevens (11 points) had a little more on his mind, playing for another game in a loser-goes-home scenario and also with a little anger at being ranked 18th.
"I felt we shouldn't have been (seeded) last," Stevens said.
Stevens put the Vikings on his back early, grabbing rebounds and nailing a '3' while teammates Sam Light (17 points) and Isaac Ray (16 points) helped the Vikings to a 13-11 lead at the end of the first quarter. The Blazers (16-8) had jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead off of back-to-back buckets from Matt Hess.
Light and Ray helped the Vikings extend the lead to 17-13 early in the second quarter, but Mennonite's Jullian Collazo and Zach Lehman led the Blazers to a 27-23 lead in a whistle-filled quarter. Light nailed a three with 2 seconds left on the clock to bring the Vikings to within a point at 27-26 at the half.
For all of the fouls called in the second quarter, not a single foul was called in the third period, where the Vikings outscored Mennonite 20-15.
Collazo remained hot for the Blazers, adding five points after the break, but the Vikings battled back as they have done all season. Stevens had a five-point scoring spree himself, hitting a jumper and then nailing down a three after an Isaac Ray steal.
After a scoring snafu caused the officials to temporarily stop the game, NL went back in front on a Light to Ray bucket. Richard Iwuagwu and Stevens buried 3s and Jon Lum and Light each added a bucket for a 43-40 lead in the final minute of the quarter.
Lehman added a bucket with 15 seconds remaining to close the gap to 43-42, before Ray drained a deep '3' with a second to go to bring the lead to 46-42 for the visitors heading into the final quarter.
The fourth quarter opened with both teams trading turnovers. Blazer Matt Hess completed three-point play after being fouled and Lehman, who led all scorers with 21 points, then hit two foul shots to bring it back to a one-point game. Hess added a bucket with 6:42 to go in the game to give Mennonite the lead for good.
NL did tie the game with 3:41 to go on Ray's third trey of the night, but the Vikes were not able to hold down Lehman, despite Mennonite missing foul shots down the stretch and leaving the door open.
While Mennonite travels to Donegal for the first round game of the District 3 AAA tournament, NL looks back on a successful season, finishing 15-8 and securing the school's first trip to Districts since 2004. Ironically, in 2004, NL lost to York Catholic on the very same floor they played on Friday night.
As disheartening as the loss and end of the season are, Bouchette was pleased with his team's performance over the course of the season.
"We battled hard," he said. "We were in a lot of close games and just couldn't finish, but we have some returners for next season."
NL returns three starters for next year including shutdown defender Richard Iwuagwu, 1000-point scorer Light, and current sophomore, Ray. NL seniors Pat Stevens, Jon Lum, and George Sherk suited up for the final time in a Viking uniform.