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The outcome left Lancaster Catholic, Lebanon Catholic and Northern Lebanon in a three-way tie for first place in Section 3

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When the basketball season began, the Lancaster-Lebanon League Section 3 title race figured to be a wild one, with great potential to go right down to the wire.

Now, with mid-January beckoning, there is only one thing to say about that school of thought:

Yep.

After Lancaster Catholic's frantic 42-41 win over Lebanon Catholic on Tuesday night, the Crusaders, Beavers and Northern Lebanon find themselves in a three-way tie for first place that doesn't figure to be unlocked until the three play each other again in the coming weeks.

"We all know each other's weaknesses and we all know each other's strengths," said Lancaster Catholic guard Lauren Mills of the deadlock atop the section. "It's really just about teamwork and intensity, that's really what it's about. You have to have fun, you have to have intensity."

There was plenty of teamwork, intensity and fun packed into Tuesday night's contest, which played out as an exhausting 32-minute sprint to the finish that wasn't decided until Lebanon Catholic came up empty on a final possession after two missed Kiki Jefferson free throws with 10 seconds left had provided a final chance at victory.

There was also a typically wide spectrum of emotions, ranging from the jubilation of Mills and her teammates celebrating a win that came despite an 11-point third quarter deficit, to a devastated Alexis Hill, so brilliant for Lebanon Catholic (9-4, 5-1 Section 3) with a game-high 20 points, fighting back tears outside the locker room afterwards.

"It's a tough one," said a disappointed but proud Patti Hower, Lebanon Catholic's coach. "We had 'em. But we were right there, we know we can play with them. And we're still right there, it's a three-way tie. It makes it a little more difficult, but we have to beat them anyway."

That win could have come Tuesday for Lebanon Catholic, but despite Hill's superb all-around play, it was not to be. Though they lead 13-9 at the end of the first quarter, 21-16 at the half and 27-16 early in the third, the Beavers never really settled in. Then again neither did Lancaster Catholic, led by 17 points from Jefferson and 12 more from Mills.

"Lancaster Catholic makes us play that way," Hower said of Lancaster Catholic's uptempo style of play. "And I think them playing from behind, made them play out of sync. Because they're not used to that, they're used to being up 20."

The Crusaders are also used to springing their lethal full-court press on opponents when they need it most, and that's exactly what they did after a Hill bucket gave the home team that 27-16 advantage 2:22 into the second half.

But from there, with the press riding shotgun, Lancaster Catholic (8-2, 5-1) outscored the Beavers 16-5 the rest of the quarter, culminating with a Lillian Fritz '3' at the buzzer that made it a 32-32 game heading into the fourth.

"Oh yeah," said Mills, to the suggestion that the press got the Crusaders going. "That press, it's a lot of communication, a lot of switching, a lot of trapping. It really got into their heads, I think."

Still, Lebanon Catholic never backed away, reclaiming a 37-34 lead on back-to-back Hill buckets with 4:37 left. The Beavers were still up 39-38 on a Celine Mars bank shot with 2:28 to go, but Jefferson followed with four points in a row to put the Crusaders back up 42-39 with 48.3 seconds remaining.

Hill then gave Lebanon Catholic renewed hope with a highlight film-quality steal and layup with 16.4 seconds left. She was fouled on the play, but missed the tying free throw and the Beavers would not get another shot up.

Tough way to lose, but not without its potential benefits.

"It was right there for the taking," Hower said. "Next time, we just have to have a few less turnovers. We had some bad passing decisions. But it's a great learning experience for us and it was a great atmosphere. You can't ask for more. And I thought Alexis was outstanding for us."

Lancaster Catholic 42, Lebanon Catholic 41

Lancaster Catholic (42)

Mills 5 2-3 12, Miller 0 0-0 0, Packard 0 0-0 0,  Cannon 0 0-0 0, Fritz 2 0-0 5, Misel 0 0-0 0, Jefferson 5 7-10 17, Scarff 2 0-0 4, Rivera 1 0-0 3. Totals: 15 9-13 42.

Lebanon Catholic (41)

Kline 0 0-0 0, Callihan 0 0-0 0, Pierre 4 1-3 9, Hill 7 6-10 20, Turner 3 0-0 7, Shellehamer 0 0-0 0, Mars 2 1-2 5. Totals: 16 8-15 41.

Lancaster Catholic 9 7 16 10 - 42

Lebanon Catholic 13 8 11 9 - 41

3-pointers: Lanc. Cath - Fritz, Leb. Cath - Turner

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