This time it was a 36-33 setback in the AAA district quarterfinals on Saturday night.
NEW HOLLAND - Lancaster Catholic, at least for now, is the one hurdle the Northern Lebanon girls basketball team just can't clear.
But that doesn't stop the Vikings from coming back for more in hopes that one of these days they'll soar gloriously over that obstacle with plenty to spare.
For the third time in as many tries this season, Northern Lebanon fell agonizingly short of leaping past the mighty Crusaders, this time in an epic District Three Class AAA quarterfinal clash at Garden Spot High School on Saturday night.
On this occasion, though, the Vikings built up quite a head of steam, jumping to a 12-2 lead five minutes in before ultimately succumbing to fatigue and too much Kiki Jefferson and Caroline Scarff in a 36-33 setback.
The result of the latest struggle between the Lancaster-Lebanon League finalists moves L-L champ Catholic (26-1) into Wednesday's semifinal round at Giant Center against Conrad Weiser, while 24-3 NL is relegated to the consolation bracket against Bishop McDevitt on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at Central Dauphin East in an effort to sew up a state tournament bid.
The Vikings certainly looked to be of state playoff-caliber on Saturday, not that they were looking for a consolation prize.
"I said, 'When you don't give your best you don't get to cry,'" said NL coach Ken Battistelli of his postgame words to his beaten but unbowed troops. '"And when you give your best there's no reason to cry.' And I thought we did our best. You can only ask for so much. There's no doubt in the world they'll do anything they can (to win).
"I'm sad we lost, but all they do is show their fans and all the people what everybody likes about them."
They issued a stirring statement of their intentions with that 12-2 burst to start the contest, staggering the Crusaders with a more attacking style than they showed in the first two meetings. By the time Amber Kintzer laid in her second straight bucket with two-and-a-half minutes left in the opening period the fire in the Vikings' eyes was plainly visible.
"We expected it, to tell you the truth," Catholic coach Charlie Detz said. "They're a great team, they're 24-3. Nobody else has been able to stop them, so that shows you how good they are."
But Catholic, blessed with size and athleticism in the form of freshman forward Jefferson and senior post Scarff, has the qualities needed to take a punch. And it did so superbly, getting 17 points from Jefferson and 15 more from Scarff to offset a balanced NL attack led by 10 points from Liz Voight and eight more from Cassiah Ray.
"When you get tired against a physically superior team you can't jump quite as high or push quite as hard," Battistelli said of the Vikings' ultimate undoing.
"They kinda got our pressure (defense) on its heels, and as a result got some easy buckets inside," said Detz. "But we made some adjustments with our pressure and our half court defense, and offensively we just settled down and got the ball inside. We had to get the ball to Kiki and we had to get the ball to Caroline."
Still, Northern Lebanon led 15-10 after one quarter and despite briefly surrendering the lead midway through the second was still up 23-21 at the half.
But points were hard to come by for the Vikings the rest of the way. Following a Ray '3' that gave it a 31-27 lead heading into the fourth, NL would tally only two more points, a Voight drive that provided a final lead of 33-32 with 5:15 left.
Jefferson put Catholic on top to stay with a runner in the lane less than a minute later, then hit three of four free throws in the final 30 seconds to wrap it up.
As he noted, the loss saddened Battistelli and his team. But there is a difference between being sad and being upset. which is why the head coach couldn't quite bring himself to be devastated, even while second-guessing some of his own strategy moves.
"They're the best kids to coach," he said, "and the hardest-working team I've ever seen."
Lancaster Catholic39, Northern Lebanon 33
Lancaster Catholic (39)
Lauren Mills 2 0-0 4, Annaliese Schreder 0 0-0 0, Kiki Jefferson 6 4-6 17, Julia Breit 0 0-0 0, Caroline Scarff 7 1-4 15, Corina Rivera 0 0-0 0, Lillian Fritz 1 0-0 3 Totals — .16 5-10 39.
Northern Lebanon (33)
Cassiah Ray 3 0-1 8, Liz Voight 4 0-1 10, Megan Brandt 1 0-0 3, Amber Kintzer 3 1-2 7, Zoe Zerman 1 2-4 5, Raeann Lessing 0 0-0 0 Totals — 12 4-9 33..
Northern Lebanon _ 15 _ 8 _ 8 _ 2 _ — _ 33
Lancaster Catholic _ 10 _ 11 _ 6 _ 12 _ — _ 39
3-point goals — LC 2 (Jefferson, Fritz), NL 5 (Ray 2, Voight 2, Zerman)