But the Vikings went down reluctantly in a 53-49 loss to perennial power Lancaster Catholic on Wednesday night.

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LANCASTER - The Northern Lebanon girls basketball team won its first 14 games of the season, a feel-good flurry of success that put the Vikings on the map in a way they rarely ever have been.

How ironic then that they would truly come of age and enjoy their proudest moments of the season in defeat.

Northern Lebanon is no longer unbeaten, but it is unbowed and unbreakable.

That much was crystal clear on Wednesday night amid the cozy confines of the Lancaster Catholic High School gym, the scene of many a forgettable NL performance over the years.

This one will linger in the memory banks a little longer, even though it will go down as a 53-49 defeat to the perennial power Crusaders on CYO Night.

En route to the setback, the Vikings showed their warrior side for the packed house, absorbing a normally devastating 12-0 run by Catholic in the second quarter and enduring catalyst Zoe Zerman fouling out with 5:23 left without ever taking a backward step.

Northern Lebanon was so impressive in defeat that fiery, hate-to-lose head coach Ken Battistelli could offer nary a discouraging word.

"We are not perfect, but we are everything I want in a basketball team," Battistelli said. "I'm so proud of them, even though we lost. We had so many opportunities to stick a fork in us...Those little suckers, they never ever stop playing. Ever."

If they had, they have may have gotten run out of the gym by a wildly talented Catholic squad led by senior post Caroline Scarff (16 points) and freshman phenom Kiki Jefferson (13 points).

And it appeared that would happen after Catholic (13-1, 10-0 Section Four) unleashed that 12-0 run that turned a 16-15 lead into a 28-15 soon-to-be-blowout with 2:18 left in the first half.

But the Vikes, led by 12 points from Zerman and 11 apiece from Megan Brandt and Liz Voight got back within 29-20 at the half, then balled their fists and used a 16-9 third quarter resurgence to pull within 38-36 after three quarters.

"Their kids play tough. There's no quit in them," said Lancaster Catholic coach Charlie Detz. "They do a good job of using what they have. I saw 'em play three times, but that's a lot different than being across the court from them."

Northern Lebanon's resilience eventually resulted in a 43-40 lead on a Cassiah Ray '3' with 5:45 left and delirious visions of victory. But that seemed to fade when Zerman fouled out 22 seconds later.

Or not. The Vikings simply refused to give in to their eventual fate, still leading 49-48 on two pressure-packed Ray free throws with 1:22 left.

"We didn't go away. We did not fold," Battistelli said. "They're tough. They don't give up, they don't give in. There was no doubt in my mind when Zoe fouled out they thought they were gonna win."

But Jefferson scored on a putback on the ensuing possession to put Catholic in front to stay and send the gritty Vikings to their first defeat. According to Battistelli, they didn't take it too well. Which is why he thinks so highly of them.

"The kids are suffering right now. They're devastated," Battistelli said. "I told them, 'I couldn't be any prouder of you. You give me every ounce of guts that you got. And I love you for it."

Lancaster Catholic 53, Northern Lebanon 49

Northern Lebanon (49)

Cassiah Ray 2 2-2 7 Liz Voight 4 2-2 11, Megan Brandt 3 5-6 11, Amber Kintzer 3 2-2 8, Zoe Zerman 3 6-8 12, Jenna Wentling 0 0-0 0, RaeAnn Lessing 0 0-0 0  Totals — 15 17-20 49 .

Lancaster Catholic (53)

Kiki Jefferson 6 0-2 13, Lauren Mills 0 0-0 0, Caroline Scarff 8 0-0 16, Julia Breit 1 5-8 7, Annaliese Schhreder 3 3-4 9, Corina Rivera 3 2-6 8, Lillian Fritz 0 0-0 0,.Totals —  21 10-20 53 .

Northern Lebanon _ 13 _ 7 _ 16 _ 13 _ — _ 49

Lancaster Catholic _ 16 _ 13 _ 9 _ 15 _ — _ 53

3-point goals — NL: Ray, Voight, LC: Jefferson

JV score — Lancaster Catholic 46, Northern Lebanon 16.

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