The Vikings continued to impress, moving to 8-0 behind a feisty defensive effort and Zoe Zerman's 31 points
DENVER - The occasion has come along only sporadically over the years, but it's here now. In a way that it rarely, if ever, has been.
The time to take the Northern Lebanon girls' basketball program seriously - very seriously, in fact - is at hand.
So much so that even the eyes of the Vikings' demanding head coach, Ken Battistelli, were popping open a bit wider Wednesday night.
His weren't the only eyes doing that.
The upstart Vikings came up with their most impressive win in an early season filled with them, knocking off perennial tough customer Cocalico 55-46 in a Section Three battle of unbeaten teams on the Eagles' home floor.
Now 8-0 overall and 5-0 in the section, Northern Lebanon got it done with defensive grit from all five starters - who each went all 32 minutes - and a pair of mammoth efforts at both ends of the floor from catalysts Zoe Zerman and Megan Brandt, who combined for 45 of the 55 points while holding down Cocalico's formidable forward tandem of Emily White and Megan Gingrich.
"It's immense," Battistelli said of how significant the win is to the program. "Because I think we match up poorly against Cocalico. They're strong in some areas that we're not, and they're so well-coached. To come on the road and win this game, maybe I have to start to believe that we're OK."
If Battistelli or anyone else has any lingering doubts about the Vikings' legitimacy all that has to be done is to consult the game film or the stat sheet, neither of which will lie.
On one or the other can be found floor leader Zerman's game-high 31 points that included ultra clutch 16-of-20 free throw shooting and yeoman's work defensively on soon-to-be 1,000-point scorer White, who managed just three first-half points while Northern Lebanon was using an 18-4 second-quarter burst to open up a 28-15 halftime lead.
Also in evidence is Brandt's play, which featured 14 points and warrior-like defending on Gingrich, who finished with nine points but was blanked in the first half.
"It's a huge confidence booster," said Zerman, who dropped in 19 of her 31 points after intermission. "From practice on Saturday we practiced so hard on everything that they did. We knew we were coming out with this win or we would have been devastated."
But Zerman, Brandt and fellow starters Amber Kintzer, Liz Voight and Cassiah Ray were clearly in no mood for such emotions, playing with focus and fire from the jump.
With help from all three of White's first-half points - she finished with 12 and move to 999 for her distinguished career - Cocalico (6-1, 4-1) opened up a 5-0 lead 1:17 into the game. But the Vikings got to within 11-10 by the end of the period, then pulled ahead to stay when Brandt dropped in a feed from Voight 22 seconds into the second quarter.
"They were really in a good place to play this game," Battistelli said of his team's collective effort. "You never know going into a game what place they're gonna be in, and it was a good one. A really good one."
The 13-point lead that Voight's fastbreak layup provided in the dying seconds of the first half gave the Vikes their largest advantage, which came in handy when Cocalico, led by Lyndsay Engle's 14 points, whittled the deficit down to 47-43 with 1:20 left.
But from there, the Vikes dug in defensively and wrapped up their biggest win in ages at the foul line, with Brandt and Zerman combining to go 6-for-6 at the stripe in the final 54 seconds.
"It's so important to us. We define ourselves by our defense," said Battistelli. "They can hurt you in a lot of ways, but I thought our kids really, really held their ground tonight."
And in the process, opened some more eyes a little wider.
Northern Lebanon 55, Cocalico 46
Northern Lebanon (55)
Cassiah Ray 0 0-0 0, Liz Voight 1 2-2 4, Megan Brandt 3 8-8 14, Amber Kintzer 3 0-0 6, Zoe Zerman 7 16-20 31. Totals — .14 26-30 55
Lorah 0 0-0 0, Fassnacht 2 0-3 4, Gingrich 3 3-4 9, Engle 7 0-0 14, Bock 1 0-0 2, White 3 6-8 12, Klumpp 2 2 1-2 5 . Totals — .18 10-17 46
Northern Lebanon _ 10 _ 18 _ 10 _ 17 _ — _ 55
Cocalico _11 _ 4 _12 _ 19 _ — _ 46
3-point goals — NL 1 (Zerman)
JV score — Cocalico 53, Northern Lebanon 15