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Patti Hower was perhaps a little biased in her proclamation, given that the outcome favored her side, but it was still tough to argue with her.

"What a game," the beaming Lebanon Catholic girls basketball coach said, even before any postgame interview questions were posed. "It's actually a shame anybody had to lose. It was an awesome high school basketball game."

Since Hower has guided the Beavers to 18 district titles, 2 state championships and is stalking the 700 career victory mark, she knows of what she speaks. And she was right, too.

In an epic early season encounter on Assumption Hill Monday night, Hower's soon-to-be-imposing Beavers and super hard-nosed, battle-tested Northern Lebanon engaged in four compelling quarters of hand-to-hand combat/basketball before Catholic emerged with an immensely satisfying 45-42 triumph.

Playing their first "big game" as a group since the off-season transfers of Lebanon High standouts Alexis Hill and Jasmine Turner, Catholic (4-1) jumped to an early 11-3 lead, only to see NL (5-1) eventually flash its big game chops and pull ahead by eight late in the third quarter.

And then a Neesha Pierre halfcourt prayer at the third quarter buzzer hit nothing but net, sparking a  game-ending 19-8 run that culminated in an understandably raucous home court celebration.

It was a December regular season game, but it felt bigger than that.

"It gives us hope," said junior guard Pierre. "Next time we play them, now they have the pressure on them. We took the pressure off of us. We have to play them a second time, and now we have confidence going into that game because we know we can beat them."

Fueling the Beavers' increased confidence is the fact that it was the kind of game that Northern Lebanon always found a way to win last year during its run to the state quarterfinals.

But this time, though it battled valiantly, the Vikings were unable to close the deal against a Catholic squad led by Hill's 15 points and its own impressive amount of fight.

"A lot of things went bad," Northern Lebanon coach Ken Battistelli said. "We just didn't get it done. We had a lead in the fourth quarter and we should have been good, and we were not. It feels really quite bad. It's terrible. We have to figure some things out and hopefully get stronger from it."

The Vikings had some trouble solving Catholic's 2-3 zone defense in the first half, which led to the 11-3 deficit and an eventual 21-19 Catholic lead at intermission.

But led by Zoe Zerman (10 points) and a game-high 16 points from Megan Brandt, NL finally found the range late in the third, closing the period on an 8-3 spurt that would have been 8-0 if not for Pierre's halfcourt bomb that hit the target.

"We practice those, actually," Pierre said with a grin. "We'll just run and throw them. Most of the time I don't make them. It looked straight on, I was like, 'Oh, that's going in.' I think it gave us a booster, but even if it didn't go in, I don't think we put our heads down. We keep going, keep pushing."

And push they did, despite trailing 38-29 after two Brandt free throws with 7:14 left. From there, it was a 16-4 sprint to the finish, including Celine Mars' go-ahead running hook shot with 1:30 to go and Hill's two icing-on-the-cake free throws with 6.2 ticks left.

"It's huge because now we know we can," Hower said. "This is a group that really hasn't been together, hasn't won games together. I think now they realize we're right there with Northern Lebanon and Lancaster Catholic, hopefully."

Lebanon Catholic 45, Northern Lebanon 42

Northern Lebanon (42)

Ray 0 0-0 0, Voight 2 0-0 6, Brandt 7 2-3 16, Kintzer 2 0-0 4, Zoe Zerman 4 1-1 10, Zara Zerman 2 0-0 6. Totals: 17 3-4 42.

Lebanon Catholic (45)

Kline 2 0-0 6, Callihan 0 0-0 0, Pieere 3 1-2 8, Hill 5 5-9 15, Turner 1 0-0 2, Shellehamer 2 0-0 5, Mars 4 1-2 9. Totals: 17 7-14 45.

Northern Lebanon 9 10 15 8 - 42

Lebanon Catholic 12 9 8 16 - 45

3-pointers: NL - Voight 2, Zara Zerman 2, Zoe Zerman, LC - Kline 2, Shellehamer, Pierre.

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