FREDERICKSBURG - Friday night marked the final time this particular group of Northern Lebanon girls basketball players would step onto their home court together with something on the line.
Needless to say, the Vikings wanted those last moments playing in front of their appreciative home crowd to be ones to remember and cherish.
They nailed that one, albeit while also handing out some major anxiety to the fans they love so much.
Down 27-16 late in the third quarter and in a world of trouble against underseeded No. 8 Berks Catholic in the 4A district quarterfinals, top-seeded Northern Lebanon found its familiar fighting spirit just in the nick of time, storming back for a dramatic 41-38 victory that the faithful won't soon forget,
Senior forward Megan Brandt led the way with a warrior-like effort that featured a team-high 20 points, sending the 23-2 Vikings into Tuesday's 8 p.m. quarterfinal round at Warwick against arch rival Lancaster Catholic.
It didn't look like another Northern Lebanon-Lancaster Catholic showdown was in the card for much of the night.
Not with Northern Lebanon struggling to hit the side of a barn offensively. Not with floor leader Zoe Zerman going scoreless in the first half and eventually fouling out after scoring just six points. And certainly not with Berks Catholic's Dejah Terrell dominating the paint on the way to a 28-point explosion.
But the Vikings' oversized, and most important vital organ never stopped beating- not for each other or their loyal supporters.
"Our heart," said Brandt, explaining how the Vikings pulled it off. "We just brought it out. We didn't want to lose here, we didn't want to lose our last home game. We came back. I don't know how we did it, but we did it."
Northern Lebanon coach Ken Battistelli wasn't quite sure, either, but he figured he would eventually see the team he's enjoyed coaching so much the last two seasons emerge at some point.
"You just had to think they weren't going to go out like that," Battistelli said. "It's almost like they needed halftime so we could have that big communal look in each other's eyes and say,'It can't be like this. No matter what, it can't be like this.'"
Berks Catholic, fresh off a Berks County title run and toting an ultra deceiving 15-11 record with them, appeared to be totally uninterested in what the Vikings wanted.
With Terrell having her way inside, the Saints never trailed in the first three quarters and appeared close to landing the knockout blow after Terrell made it a 27-16 game with 2:40 left in the third.
But from there, the Viking closed the quarter on an 8-0 run that got them to within 27-24 after three quarters, then took their first lead of the night on a Brandt bucket that made it 28-27 with 6:13 left.
It was a run fed by pressure defense anchored by Liz Voight and Zara Zerman that finally made Berks Catholic uncomfortable and kept them in that state the rest of the way.
"Defensive pressure," Battistelli said firmly of the catalyst. "You had to think eventually we'd start to score some, but it didn't look like that was gonna happen. But we stretched out (the defense) and I think that affected how they played. Once the kids saw that, I think they got jacked up a little bit. I think seeing a little weakness in them led to a little confidence in us."
No Viking was more jacked up than Brandt, who had to shoulder the load offensively while dealing with Terrell when Zerman got in foul trouble and eventually fouled out.
"We had some offensive problems in the first half, some very big offensive problems," Brandt said. "I had to step up and had to be strong. And then when Zoe got into foul trouble I had to mentally be ready to cover a girl five inches bigger than me and just try to hold her."
With some big help from her friends, Brandt pulled it off, getting a key steal from Voight down the stretch and some huge free throws from Zara Zerman in the closing minutes that blew the lid off the tiny Northern Lebanon gym one last time.
"We play with a lot of affection," Battistelli said. "We want to do good for each other, we want to good for all these people. This team, they want to please so much. I don't know that we play our best here, but we absolutely love playing here."
Northern Lebanon 41, Berks Catholic 38
Berks Catholic (38)
Dimmerling 0 0-0 0, Baney 0 1-2 1, Gaffney 1 0-0 2, Keys 1 1-2 3, Terrell 14 0-1 28, Leininger 0 0-0 0, Blunt 2 0-0 4. Totals: 18 2-5 38.
Northern Lebanon (41)
Ray 0 0-0 0, Voight 1 3-4 5, Brandt 8 4-6 20, Kintzer 0 1-2 1, Zoe Zerman 1 4-4 6, Zara Zerman 1 7-13 9. Totals: 11 19-30
Berks Catholic 10 9 8 10 - 37
Northern Lebanon 6 6 12 17 - 41
3-point field goals: None.