The Vikings moved to the brink of their first Section Three title in 30 years on Thursday night with a key 47-35 victory over Cocalico
FREDERICKSBURG - The banner hangs in the Northern Lebanon High School gym, almost bare compared to some of the more decorated ones that surround it.
It's the girls' basketball banner and it has a grand total of one championship etched on it, the Section Three title won by the Vikings way back in 1986. Soon, it won't be quite as lonely.
Northern Lebanon took a gigantic step toward its first section title in a mere 30 years on Thursday night, knocking off its main challenger, a quality Cocalico club, 47-35 in front of a fired-up home crowd yearning to cheer on a championship team.
They'll likely soon get their wish thanks to another gritty effort by the feisty Vikings, who were led by 20 points on a bum ankle by junior catalyst Zoe Zerman and a board-crashing, warrior-like 16-point effort from junior forward Megan Brandt.
The victory puts Northern Lebanon (18-1, 12-1 Section Three) two games up on second-place Cocalico (14-3, 10-3) with three section games remaining and on the brink of accomplishing something it believes more storied programs take for granted.
"It's been a long, long, long time," said Northern Lebanon coach Ken Battistelli. "Teams that have big programs, they play for districts and different things. But that stupid little banner means a massive amount to these kids, and it means a tremendous amount to me. That's our first goal. I'm not gonna lie to you and say if we came in second we'd be OK. We really, really want to (win the section) and we're gonna try really hard not to stumble down the stretch."
"It's really exciting, " said Brandt, whose relentless work on the boards set the tone for the win. "It makes our school excited to be a part of something like this, it makes us excited to have people here cheering for us. Winning is not something Northern Lebanon is really used to, so it's great to have it."
The Vikings had a fight on their hands much of the night, particularly early after Emily Fassnacht knocked down two first-quarter 3-pointers to stake the Eagles to a 12-8 lead, six minutes in.
But from there, Northern Lebanon ran off the next 10 points, three of which came on a Zerman trey at the the quarter buzzer that put the home team in front to stay.
Cocalico made a number of runs at the lead the rest of the way, but the Vikes' iron-willed starting five of Brandt, Zerman, Cassiah Ray, Liz Voight and Amber Kintzer resisted each charge in typically gritty fashion.
"They're pure heart," Battistelli said of his troops. "We make plenty of mistakes, plenty of things aren't perfect, but doggone it, they play defense. And they've got nerve. You just think they'll figure it out somehow. They're just the kind of kids you know will do something good."
Brandt probably did the most good things on Thursday, including providing a pointed response to a Cocalico surge that culminated with a White four-point play that made it 33-31 game with 1:26 left in the third.
Three straight Brandt points later, the lead was back to five entering the fourth, where the Vikings used their delay game and 10-for-15 foul shooting to wrap up the win.
"This game was a physical game, and we had to play defense," Brandt said. "Our box-outs and offensive rebounds (were important), and we had to make foul shots."
The little things, you know, that those who burn to be champions make sure they do on a consistent basis. A little more of that and Northern Lebanon will get to enjoy the fruits of that hard labor.
"I'll enjoy the ride when it's over," Battistelli said, focusing on finishing off the section title run. "I tell the kids, 'It's not fun until it's done.'"
Northern Lebanon 47, Cocalico 35
Emily White 2 4-5 9, Megan Gingrich 4 0-7 8, Lyndsay Engle 1 2-2 4, Emily Fassnacht 2 0-0 6, Maddie Bock 0 0-0 0, Jasa Lorah 4 0-2 8, Samantha Klumpp 0 0-0 0, Totals — 13 6-16 35.
Northern Lebanon (47)
Cassiah Ray 1 3-4 5, Liz Voight 1 1 -2 4, Megan Brandt 5 6-11 16, Amber Kintzer 1 0-0 2, Zoe Zerman 5 8-12 20. Totals — 13 18-29 47 .
Cocalico _ 12 _ 7 _ 12 _ 4 _ — _ 35
Northern Lebanon _ 14 _ 12 _ 10 _ 11 _ — _ 47
3-point goals — C: Fassnacht 2, White, NL: Voight, Zerman 2.
JV score — Cocalico 39, Northern Lebanon 17