Northern Lebanon girls are tough at home
FREDERICKSBURG - There's no place like home for the Northern Lebanon girls basketball team.
With all due respect, the odds were against Hempfield beating NL on Saturday night in the quarterfinals of the L-L League girls' basketball playoffs and that's the way it played out, with the Vikings taking a 53-31 victory.
The Black Knights (14-9), the No. 3 team from Section One, arrived to challenge the two-time Section Three champion Northern Lebanon (22-1) with plenty of firepower. A cluster of shooters, led by Julianna Clark and Paige Diminick, was capable of posting anywhere from 45 to 70 points, as they did throughout the season.
But points don't come easily in the Vikings' gym, not in front of their standing-room-only crowd and rabid student section, where they haven't lost the last two years.
"We love playing at home," NL senior Amber Kintzer said. "There's no place like it. The atmosphere, the support we get from all our fans, it's unbelievable."
Vikings seniors Megan Brandt, Zoe Zerman and Kintzer know all too well that their number of home games left is dwindling rapidly. In fact, only a first-round District 3 Class 4A game is guaranteed.
With that in mind, they turned their win over Hempfield into a replay of past successes, along with a prelude to one last dance.
"That's something we don't talk about," Kintzer said, "our last home game."
After a sluggish start, in which they trailed 14-10 early, the Vikes' defense took over and they outscored Hempfield 36-13 over the middle two periods.
Hempfield's offense consisted primarily or four Diminick 3-pointers and one by Clark. Otherwise, they had six deuces.
NL, meanwhile, placed four players in double figures.
Zerman played lights out defense on Clark, holding her to five points, and scored 17, including four 3-pointers to offset Diminick's.
Brandt worked the paint like Vincent van Gogh, brushing in 11 points to go with a team-high 12 rebounds for a pivotal double-double.
Kintzer was demonic under the boards and on defense, doing all the little things that have led to the Vikes' 50 wins over the past two years. She also worked free for 10 points underneath.
And junior sniper Lizzie Voight got involved with 11 points, including three second-half 3-pointers to help the Vikes pull away.
Next up is merely an epic semifinal showdown with undefeated Cedar Crest. When was the last time two Lebanon County teams with one loss between them squared off this late in a season?
And what does that say about Lebanon County basketball?
"It says a lot," said NL coach Ken Battistelli, a Cedar Crest grad. "This is just a good time for Lebanon County girls basketball. Cedar Crest has a great team. Lebanon Catholic has a great team. And as I said all year, if Elco hadn't lost their two girls to injury, they would have been right there."
But doesn't Cedar Crest pose a little something extra?
"It'll be a huge game," Battistelli said. "We've never played Cedar Crest in my 10 years here. It'll be interesting. Cedar Crest has to be one of the best teams in the state."
Of the Vikes' 50 wins the past two years, only one other came over a Class 6A team, Manheim Township, in last year's league playoffs. They warmed up against Hempfield, the No. 10-ranked team in 6A, and now face Crest, the No. 2 6A team behind three-time PIAA champ Cumberland Valley.
"I'm looking forward to it," Zerman said. "Megan, Amber and I played them when we were in middle school and Cedar Crest crushed us. I'm anxious to see how we do this time."
Clark, whose Black Knights lost to Crest twice, said the semifinal should be good.
"They're both great teams," she said. "Northern Lebanon played great defense tonight and rebounded really well. This was really a tough place to play. Both Cedar Crest and Northern Lebanon are tough to beat. It should be a good game."
The site and time of their semifinal to be determined.