LANCASTER - The last time the Northern Lebanon girls basketball team walked into Lancaster Catholic's house - this month a year ago - it was a very good, emerging team that hadn't quite figured out how to be great.
The Vikings have learned a lot in a year's time.
Including how to handle a hostile environment and the Crusaders' often invincible aura on their home floor.
After losing three straight times to Catholic a year ago before finally turning the tables in the state playoffs, Northern Lebanon has now gotten the better of its longtime nemesis for a second consecutive meeting.This time, courtesy of a typically gritty 49-35 victory on Friday night on the defending league and district champion's home floor.
A tireless two-way effort from senior guard Zoe Zerman paced the Vikings (10-1, 4-1 Section 3), as did a brilliant performance from partner in crime Megan Brandt, who dropped in a game-high 21 points, none bigger than a buzzer-beating '3' at the end of the third quarter that effectively broke Catholic's back on the way to ending its staggering 100-game winning streak in Lancaster-Lebanon League play.
"We're no longer surprised to find ourselves in that spot," Northern Lebanon coach Ken Battistelli said of his long-since battle-tested squad. "I don't think this team expects to be beaten. Not that we can't be beaten. But I don't think in their hearts they think they're gonna fail."
"Well, I fouled out," Zerman said with a laugh of what she remembered about NL's trip to Lancaster Catholic last year. "And I think the atmosphere kinda got to us a little bit. We weren't used to this. We know what to do in these situations now, and that helps us out."
As noted, Zerman had her fingerprints all over the win, tallying 11 points, handling the ball effectively for 32 minutes against Catholic's relentless pressure defense, and defending Catholic's sophomore star Kiki Jefferson superbly while holding her to a quiet 12 points.
"I wasn't backing down," Zerman said, with a huge grin, of the load she carried on Friday night. "It motivates me. I like being in charge, I guess. I just know that when I have the ball everyone else thinks we're, like, safe."
Ironically, the ball wasn't safe in anyone's hands in a helter-skelter first half that had Catholic (6-2, 4-1) up 11-9 after the opening quarter, and Northern Lebanon clinging to a 25-22 lead at the half.
But in the third, after some early rocky moments, the Vikings asserted themselves, using an 8-1 run over the final 4:19 highlighted by 3s from Zara Zerman and Brandt to take a 37-26 advantage into the final eight minutes.
"We looked crazy in the first quarter," Battistelli said. "We were playing way too fast. We're supposed to get tired because we don't have any depth, but they just keep playing defense and boxing out, playing defense and boxing out. And on offense, we make enough plays."
And once in possession of a significant lead, NL wasn't about to let it get away, as it did in its only loss, to Lebanon Catholic, last month. With Zerman leading the charge, the Vikings ran their delay offense effectively enough, and defended with continued intensity right to the final horn.
In short, it was a typical Northern Lebanon win - often short on stylishness but long on toughness and determination.
"This looked like us," Battistelli said. "This is what we do. I was really, really proud because we didn't get tired, we didn't break down. They just kept sitting down and playing defense and rebounding."
And they were rewarded handsomely. Not only with a key section win over an arch rival, but also with a place in history as the team that broke Catholic's unbreakable L-L winning streak.
"I just wish we could have played them when they were at 99," Zerman said. "It just shows that we didn't stop after we won in the state playoffs. We knew they were gonna be a threat, and we wanted it more."
Northern Lebanon 49, Lancaster Catholic 35
Northern Lebanon (49)
Ray 1 0-0 2, Voight 2 2-2 8, Brandt 7 6-6 21, Kintzer 0 0-0 0, Zoe Zerman 4 3-4 11, Zara Zerman 3 0-0 7. Totals: 17 11-12 49.
Lancaster Catholic (35)
Mills 3 0-0 7, Jefferson 5 2-5 12, Fritz 3 0-0 7, Turner 1 2-4 5, Rivera 0 3-4 3, Scarff 0 1-2 1, Miller 0 0-0 0, Cannon 0 0-0 0, Packard 0 0-0 0, Misel 0 0-0 0. Totals: 12 8-15 35.
Northern Lebanon 9 16 12 12 - 49
Lancaster Catholic 11 11 4 9 - 35
3-pointers : NL - Voight 2, Brandt, Zara Zerman. LC: Mills, Turner, Fritz