BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – ‘Re-hydrate, get plenty of sleep and don’t forget to do the laundry! There’s another game tomorrow.’
Basketball is not the type of game that was meant to be played on a night-in and night-out basis. But the Northern Lebanon boys seem to be thriving on their daily grind.
On Thursday night at home, the Vikings won their third game of the week by shading Garden Spot 55-36, in a Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three make-up postponed by an earlier weather event. Employing some sticky man-to-man defense, Northern Lebanon slowly pulled away from the Spartans by outscoring them in each and every quarter.
With a Friday home tilt against Lampeter-Strasburg and a Saturday away trip to Hamburg still remaining, the Vikings will have played four games in four days, during their five-game week. Last evening’s triumph was Northern Lebanon’s fifth straight overall and pushed them to 9-3 on the year and 4-3 in the section.
Garden Spot fell to 2-9 on the season and 1-6 in the section.
“I don’t know. We’re only three games into it,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Gary Bouchette when asked what it’s like to play five games in a week. “We’ve had some weird stretches on our schedule. We’ve had two games in one day. If I was a player, I’d like it. But from a coach’s standpoint, it can be frustrating because you have so many different game plans in your head. We’re responding to it well.
“Of course I do the laundry,” continued Bouchette. “It’s one of the things I do around here. I just do the towels. The kids have to worry about their uniforms.”
On this particular evening, the Vikings put the Spartans, and the outcome, away during a stretch that spanned the third and fourth quarters.
On four points from Sam Light and a trey by Isaac Ray, the Vikings tallied the final seven points of the third stanza to extend a 30-26 advantage to 11 points. Then Northern Lebanon opened the final period with five unanswered points from Ray, to stretch its lead to 42-26.
Eventually that margin reached 52-30, thanks to a pair of free throws from Light with 3:13 to go.
“We’ve got to play smarter,” said Bouchette. “We let the game get into our heads. It’s tough. This was our third game without any practices. Bang, bang, bang.
“Typically we play smarter, and at times, we lost our heads,” Bouchette added. “And it was key players who lost their heads. We had more turnovers than we usually do and we didn’t shoot the ball well.”
With leading scorer Light on the pines with foul difficulties in the second quarter, the Vikings more than held their own with Garden Spot, and they did it with defense. Northern Lebanon did not surrender a point during the final 5:18 of the first half, and took a 24-18 margin to the break, courtesy of a Richard Iwuagwu lay-up and a Daymon ‘Sunshine’ Long charity toss.
“They still continued to play,” said Bouchette of the stretch. “Some of our guys stepped up. It seemed like we settled down a little bit when Sam went out.
“Even the games we lost, we were right there,” added Bouchette. “Look at the (Class AAA) district rankings. With one point, where would we be? We’re doing well. We’re doing the things we need to do to win games. But I can see this group getting better.”
Light netted a game-high 16 points and continued to close in on Northern Lebanon’s all-time leading scorer, Travis Ludwig. Long pumped in 13 points, while Ray canned a dozen.
The Vikings held the Spartans to six two-point field goals and six made free throws.
“I said in the beginning of the season that I thought he’s going to be the one who makes or breaks us,” said Bouchette of Long. “Sam is going to get his. But he (Long) does all the little things, like getting rebounds and playing defense on bigger guys. He was the guy in junior high who should’ve got cut. But the heart he has makes him the player he is. He gives you everything he has.”
Points from Long, Christian Morales, Ray and Light fueled an 8-0 Viking run that gave them an early-six point cushion. And when Light scored on a lay-in a minute into the second quarter, Northern Lebanon had itself a 17-10 advantage.
“It’s gone quick,” said Bouchette of the season. “I don’t think they (his players) realize how quick it’s gone. We’re half way. I think they’re having that much that they don’t realize it. If they would step back and realize we’re halfway through, I think it would shock some of them.
“If I had to give us a mid-term grade, I’d say a low ‘B’,” concluded Bouchette. “I was going to even say a high ‘C’. We haven’t had any signature wins yet. We’ve beaten the teams we should beat.”