The Vikings registered their third straight win over their nemesis on Tuesday night, moving closer to a Section 3 title repeat in the process.
Don't miss last week's top 5 plays from around GameTimePA, featuring boys hoops, wrestling and swimming. Video by Lindsey Smith
FREDERICKSBURG - Northern Lebanon girls basketball coach Ken Battistelli is a man of many words in postgame interviews, much to the delight of any reporter looking for a good quote.
But on Tuesday night, he needed only a few to accurately sum up why his Vikings are on the brink of a second straight Section 3 title after ending a 30-year drought last year.
"They'll step in front of a train for each other," Battistelli said, when asked to sum up Northern Lebanon's third straight victory over perennial power and one-time nemesis Lancaster Catholic.
Using its tried and true formula of ferocious defense, clutch foul shooting and epic mental toughness, Northern Lebanon took over sole possession of first place in the section with two games remaining via a 50-41 triumph over the Crusaders in front of a frantic home crowd at Northern Lebanon High School.
Now 19-1 overall and 11-1 in Section 3, the Vikings, paced by 14 points from Megan Brandt and a huge 12-point effort off the bench from freshman Zara Zerman, led for all but a few minutes of the contest, but could never relax thanks to an equally fierce effort from the Crusaders (15-4,, 10-2). It was led by super sophomore Kiki Jefferson, who tallied a game-high 19 points including the 1,00th of her career, to keep Catholic in the thick of the fight throughout.
But as it continues to prove, Northern Lebanon loves nothing more than a good fight.
"It looked like every Northern Lebanon big game in the world," Battistelli said. "Our kids just fight. They play their defense, they box out and they'll step in front of a train for each other. They'll just die for each other. And that's tough to beat."
It's also hard to beat a team that enjoys the home crowd support the Vikings do. The atmosphere was ear-splitting thanks in large part to a raucous student section and the Vikings just fed off of it, drawing energy to sustain each and every Lancaster Catholic charge at the lead.
"I'm at a loss for words," said Brandt, who popped in 10 of her 14 points in the first half to stake NL to a 25-22 lead at the break. "It's honestly amazing to have this kind of feeling, and with the fan support that we have. We're a strong team mentally and mentally we're playing for each other and that's how we do it."
That was reflected in the box score, which showed four Vikings in double figures with Zoe Zerman (12 points) and Amber Kintzer (10 points) joining Brandt and Zara Zerman in double figures. The Vikings also got intangible contributions from guards Cassiah Ray and Liz Voight, who made up what they lacked in point production with typical Northern Lebanon defensive intensity.
"We know we need to fight and that's what we did," said Kintzer. "It's the greatest feeling, it's the best feeling in the world. Pretty amazing."
The Vikings took their biggest lead of the night until the final seconds at 37-29 on a Brandt bucket 50 seconds into the fourth quarter. But the Crusaders were undeterred, storming back to within 40-37 when Jefferson reached the 1,000-point mark with 3:19 left.
But Zoe Zerman answered with an ultra clutch bucket out of NL's delay offense on the ensuing possession, and from there the Zerman sisters and Brandt combined to hit on 8 of 10 free throw tries in the final 1:34 to wrap up the win.
A win that was earned like most Viking victories are, with blood and guts and and unshakable faith in each other.
"We always tell ourselves that we're not better than anybody," Battistelli said, "we just want it more than everybody. That's our magical power. That's what these kids love."
Northern Lebanon 50, Lancaster Catholic 41
Lancaster Catholic (41)
Mills 4 3-3 12, Fritz 1 1-2 4, Miller 0 0-0 0, Jefferson 7 4-4 19, Rivera 2 2-2 6, Misel 0 0-0 0, Cannon 0 0-0 0. Totals: 14 10-11 41.
Northern Lebanon (50)
Ray 1 0-0 2, Voight 0 0-0 0, Brandt 6 2-3 14, Kintzer 5 0-1 10, Zoe Zerman 5 2-4 12, Zara Zerman 1 10-12 12. Totals: 18 14-20 50.
Lancaster Catholic 11 11 7 12 - 41
Northern Lebanon 11 14 10 15 - 50
3-pointers: LC - Jefferson, Fritz, NL - None.