The Vikings' most successful season in program history ended on Saturday in a state quarterfinal loss to South Park
ALTOONA – The Northern Lebanon girls basketball team spent a long time in its locker room at Altoona High School following Saturday’s state playoff tussle with South Park.
Eventually, the Vikings, many of them teary-eyed, emerged and returned to the gym to greet the fans and family who had made the three-hour trek west to support their favorite team.
What they found was a scene that said more than anything they did or didn’t do on the court during a season-ending 33-30 loss to the WPIAL reps in the quarterfinals of the PIAA Class AAA state playoffs.
Northern Lebanon (28-4) failed to capture one more win to extend the best season in program history, but what they found in the gym was a reminder that they had captured more than a few hearts along the way.
“That’s why we went out,” NL head coach Ken Battistelli said. “We just sat there and were miserable for a little bit, and I just explained to them how I feel about them. And I said, ‘Now let’s go out so you can see how everybody else feels about you.’”
The throng of well-wishers who stuck around to pay tribute was treated to another gutsy, if unsuccessful, effort that went down to the wire.
Down 31-23 early in the fourth, the Vikings rallied to within three points of the lead and got Megan Brandt a look at a game-tying 3-pointer that fell just short as time expired before surrendering their season.
If it was any consolation – likely not – the season ended courtesy of a South Park club that was in many ways NL’s mirror image – feisty, tough defensively, maybe a bit more athletic and led by University of Maryland-Baltimore County recruit Allison McGrath.
“They were fast and strong and tenacious,” Battistelli said. “I give them a lot of credit because they played the one defense we haven’t faced this year (a triangle and two). We never got comfortable against them at any point.”
Still, the Vikings, led by 10 points from Liz Voight and eight more from Zoe Zerman, were deadlocked 8-8 after the first quarter, and up 19-18 at the half before a near-disastrous two-point third quarter permanently turned the tide.
Not that Northern Lebanon didn't fight its eventual fate mightily, getting key buckets from Brandt and Voight down the stretch and three missed front ends of one-and-ones from South Park in the final 1:17.
It all set the stage for one final possession with 3.6 seconds left that ended with Brandt's near-miss from deep at the buzzer.
"It wasn't quite as open a look as we would have liked," Battistelli said. "Most people don't know that Brandt can shoot, so we thought we could sneak her in and get a good look. It was a decent look, it just didn't go in."
And when it didn't a dream season had ended. The Vikings return their starting lineup - and entire roster - next season - so they won't be fading from the scene at all, but it will be difficult to beat the special months spent in many gyms this season in the future.
"What these kids have given to the community, to each other, and to me is immeasurable," Battisteli said. "I love 'em that much, I can't even express it. I would have loved for them to have more days, but what they've given to me I don't think I'll ever be able to give to anyone else. They've brought so much joy to my life and my family's life. I would have never dreamt it could be like this."
South Park 33, Northern Lebanon 30
South Park (33)
Allison McGrath 4 1-2 9, Natalie Clydesdale 3 0-1 7, Maura Huwalt 0 0-0 0, Alyssa Greer 1 2-4 5, Brittany Andrews 3 2-2 8, Jess Jones 2 0-0 4. Totals — 13 5-9 33.
Northern Lebanon (30)
Cassiah Ray 1 0-0 2, Liz Voight 4 1-1 10, Megan Brandt 3 0-2 6, Amber Kintzer 1 2-2 4, Zoe Zerman 2 4-5 8, Raeann Lessing 0 0-0 0, Jenna Wentling 0 0-0 0. Totals — 11 7-10 30.
South Park _ 8 _ 10 _ 9 _ 6 _ — _ 33
Northern Lebanon _ 8 _ 11 _ 2 _ 9 _ — _ 30
3-point goals — SP 2 (Clydesdale, Greer), NL 1 (Voight).