See the top five plays from the Vikings' 46-44 win over the Lady Crusaders in the District 3 Class 4A championship. It's the Vikings' first ever District Championship. Matt Catrillo/GameTimePA.com
It was tense. It was tight. At times, it was downright ugly.
In short, it was the kind of game the Northern Lebanon girls basketball team is used to winning.
And Friday night, the Vikings did it again.
Led by a gutsy effort from foul-ridden senior Zoe Zerman and timely contributions from Megan Brandt and Liz Voight in the final minutes, the Vikings battled for a 46-44 victory over Bishop McDevitt in the District 3 Class 4A championship game in Hershey’s Giant Center.
It’s the first district title in program history for Northern Lebanon, which improved to 25-2 with its 20th win in its last 21 games.
“It feels awesome,” said Zerman, who led the Vikings with 16 points. “We worked so hard for so long to get here.”
“I can’t describe how happy I am for these kids,” Northern Lebanon coach Ken Battistelli said.
The championship didn’t come easy.
McDevitt entered the game on a hot streak, having won nine straight. The Crusaders’ emerging standout sophomore, Olivia Fasick, torched the Vikings for a game-high 25 points, and helped put Zerman, who had the unenviable task of guarding her for most of the game, in foul trouble.
To make matters worse, the Vikes were ice-cold from the field, unable to snag many of the rebounds they’d normally grab, and prone to turnovers as the Crusaders ran their half-court trapping defense to perfection.
“I could just see the nerves oozing out of us in the first half,” Battistelli said.
“It was our first time here,” said Brandt. “I think that was definitely on our minds.”
Things got even more tense for Northern Lebanon when Zerman was whistled for a charge with 3:24 left in the game, sending her to the bench with five fouls. The score was tied at 34 at that point, but it looked like the Vikings were in deep trouble. At the time, Zerman was their only player in double figures, and was unquestionably their best player at both ends of the court.
When Zernan left the game, Battistelli admitted to some nervousness.
“I felt like I wanted to puke,” he said. “Zoe’s been my point guard for four years, and I’m very uncomfortable when she’s not in the game.”
“I felt really dumb,” said Zerman. “I felt like I was letting my team down. But at the same time, I was OK because we were in games like this before. I believed somebody else would come through.”
As it turned out, that someone was Brandt, who said she gave herself a pep talk as she watched Zerman walk to the bench.
“I knew it fell to me to step up,” she said.
She responded with her best stretch of the game. After putting the Vikes back on top with a free throw with 3:06 left, Brandt ended the Crusaders’ ensuing possession with a defensive rebound, and took the ball coast to coast for a layup.
Amber Kintzer’s basket on Northern Lebanon’s next trip made it 39-34 with 2:15 left.
Not even close.
The Vikings had to survive a white-knuckle final stretch as the Crusaders amped up the pressure even more.
Northern Lebanon squandered a chance to put the game away with 34 seconds left, when Voight drew a foul call that so incensed the McDevitt bench that the Crusaders were also whistled for a technical foul.
The Vikings, leading 44-40 at the time, could have put the game away. Instead, they missed all four free throws.
“I was pretty concerned,” Battistelli admitted. “When they got the technical, I felt like if we went 2-for-4 we were golden. Instead, we went 0-for-4. But later, when we really needed to hit them, we got them.”
McDevitt crept to within two points with 21 seconds left, but the Crusaders had to foul to stop the clock.
Brandt and Voight both went 1-for-2 from the free throw line in the final seconds to put the game away.
Voight finished with 11 points for the Vikings, while Brandt had 10.
“This game was so symbolic of what we do,” Battistelli said. “You never know who’s going to save the day, but somebody is always willing to step up.”
Now the Vikings will turn their attention to the state playoffs, which get underway next Friday. Northern Lebanon will face the fifth-place team out of District 12.
The Vikings opponent has yet to be determined. The site and time of the game will also be released later.
Asked to assess his team’s chances, Battistelli was confident.
“I think we can lose to anybody, because we’re not physically superior to anybody,” he said. “But I also think we can beat anybody, because we have more heart than anyone. It’s rare that we don’t show up to play.”
Northern Lebanon 46, Bishop McDevitt 44
Bishop McDevitt (44)
Fasick 9 3-4 25, Cameron 2 2-2 6, Breski 1 3-4 5, Morrow 1 2-2 4, Cheatham 2 0-0 4, Collins 0 0-0 0, Thomas 0 0-0 0. Totals: 15 10-12 44.
Northern Lebanon (46)
Zoe Zerman 5 5-5 16, Voight 2 6-10 11, Brandt 4 2-3 10, Zara Zerman 1 3-7 5, Kintzer 2 0-0 4, Ray 0 0-0 0. Totals: 14 16-25 46.
Bishop McDevitt 7 11 8 18 - 44
Northern Lebanon 8 10 10 18 - 46.
3-pointers: BM - Fasick 4, NL - Zoe Zerman, Voight.