LITITZ - It was the seventh meeting between the two fierce rivals in less than 2 full seasons. And there remains a chance they could see each other an 8th time before all is said and done in this 2016-17 campaign.
Because of that, the Northern Lebanon and Lancaster Catholic girls basketball teams are getting a little tired of seeing so much of each other.
But from Northern Lebanon's perspective there are certainly worse ways to spend a Tuesday than beating Catholic for a third straight time and earning the program's first-ever trip to a district championship game.
That's exactly what the Vikings did Tuesday night, knocking off Catholic 50-43 in a fierce District 3 4A semifinal clash of titans at Warwick High School.
Sisters Zara and Zoe Zerman led the way for NL (24-2), combining for 37 of the team's 50 points to send it into Friday's 5 p.m. title game at Giant Center opposite Bishop McDevitt, a 36-34 winner over West Perry.
"Yeah, I guess part of you is tired of it, because every game is a blood fight," Northern Lebanon coach Ken Battistelli said of facing Catholic yet again under pressurized circumstances. "But in the end, that's all right. A lot of what we are today is because of them, so it's kinda fitting to play them. They made us a better team."
Zara, a freshman guard who tallied 14 of her 17 points in the first half while senior point guard Zoe was saddled with foul trouble, was the key to the triumph, turning a 12-12 game early in the 2nd quarter into a 26-18 NL lead at the half by scoring 10 of her points in the final 3:50 before intermission. In all, her first half stat line showed 2 3-pointers and perfect 8-for-8 free throw shooting.
Zoe picked up the slack from there, scoring the Vikings' first six points of the half to break open a game that ended up being not nearly as close as the final score would indicate.She finished with 20 points, 14 in the 2nd half.
"She was incredible," Battistelli said of Zara's first half effort. "She looked like she was a senior point guard instead of a freshman point guard. "It seemed like she was 50-for-50 from the foul line in the first half. She was awesome. She was so poised and in control."
"I knew that Zoe got into foul trouble and she's normally our scorer," Zara said. "But we have other scorers. We just had to stay focused and not worry about her; she has her own problems to worry about. We all have our own problems, but it came together."
Did it ever. Armed with its trademark smothering man-to-man defense that kept all but Crusaders star Kiki Jefferson (26 points) in check, Northern Lebanon built its lead as large as 40-22 by the end of the third quarter. Some sloppiness and pressure defense from Catholic led to some rough moments down the stretch, but not enough to keep the Vikings from a coveted trip to Chocolatetown on Friday evening.
"It's an amazing feeling," Zara said of the impending trip to Giant Center. "It's incredible."
"We're lovin' every minute of it," Battistelli said. "We're very, very excited to go. But we just said we're not going there to smell the chocolate. We want to win. We're not happy to be there, we're going to win."
Northern Lebanon 50, Lancaster Catholic 43
Lancaster Catholic (43)
Mills 3 0-0 7, Miller 0 0-0 0, Fritz 1 0-0 2, Jefferson 9 7-7 26, Cannon 0 0-0 0, Jacquis 2 0-1 4, Turner 0 2-2 2, Breit 0 0-2 0, Peris 1 0-0 2. Totals: 16 9-12 43.
Northern Lebanon (50)
Ray 0 1-2 1, Voight 1 2-4 4, Brandt 2 2-6 6, Kintzer 1 0-0 2, Zoe Zerman 4 11-15 20, Zara Zerman 2 11-13 17. Totals: 10 27-40 50.
Lancaster Catholic 10 8 4 21 - 43
Northern Lebanon 10 16 14 10 - 50
3-pointers: LC - Mills, Jefferson , NL - Zara Zerman 2, Zoe Zerman