BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – For the last 15 to 20 years or so – since their inception and their resulting involvement in inter-scholastic athletics – locals have wondered just how competitve Christian schools were in sports, and exactly how they would stack up against public schools. On Saturday night, that piqued curiosity was satisfied, at least to a degree.
In what was in many ways a historic collision of Lebanon County’s public and private sectors, the Northern Lebanon boys’ basketball defeated New Covenant Christian School 73-30 in a non-league clash. The contest represented New Covenant Christian’s first-ever competition against a Lebanon County public school in boys’ basketball.
What paved the way for the Flames’ initial competition against a County public school was the fact that they became a Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association-sanctioned school at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year.
Over the recent holidays, Northern Lebanon had competed against Lebanon County’s Blue Mountain Christian Academy, which is not a PIAA member, in its annual holiday tournament. That game was necessitated when a previously-committed team backed out of the Vikings’ holiday event.
“I’m sure they would (like to play more games against County public schools),” said Northern Lebanon head coach Gary Bouchette. “Now they have an idea of what is out there. It gives them an idea of where they’re at. They’re a young team.”
“I was very curious to see how we would do against a public school,” said New Covenant head coach Troy Williams. “At the beginning, we may have had that deer-in-the-headlights look.
“I guess it was a little historic because this was the first time we played a public school from Lebanon County,” Williams continued. “This is the type of game we need as a program to grow and get better.”
Now 9-6 overall, Northern Lebanon is in the midst of one of its best campaigns in recent memory. At 0-10, New Covenant is firmly entrenched in rebuilding mode.
“If you’re looking at it from a power rankings standpoint, yeah it doesn’t do much for you,” said Bouchette of playing the Class A Flames. “If you’re just looking for wins…I don’t know, it’s a tough spot.
“I don’t have much say about who we play,” Bouchette added. “In our Christmas tournament, we had to get a team in there to make it four. It was a last-minute thing.”
“That’s a question for the athletic director,” said Williams when asked how the competition against Northern Lebanon came about. “He gave me the schedule. It had Northern Lebanon on it and I said, ‘Wow!’. For our program, this is a big step in the right direction.”
From a competitive standpoint, the contest wasn’t much of a game. Northern Lebanon ran out to an early lead, substituted liberally and invoked the 40-point mercy rule in the second half.
The Vikings used their superior speed and quickness to create open and multiple shots throughout. Meanwhile, the Flames struggled to score when they were unable to get the ball to their big man – 6-7 junior Nathaniel Lawson – inside.
“We approached it like any other game,” said Bouchette. “I looked at their (the Flames’) strengths and weaknesses. But once it started, it was a different story.
“It gave us a chance to run our offense,” Bouchette continued, “run though it more than we have been.”
“They’re a good team,” said Williams of the Vikings. “They play together and they communicate well with one another. That is something we have to learn to do. They are, by far, the toughest school we played.”
Northern Lebanon netted the first 11 points of the game and led 19-2. The first quarter ended with the Vikings up 27-8. After enjoying a 40-14 cushion at intermission, the Vikings carried a 57-18 lead into the final eight minutes of action.
“It’s a good record for us,” said Bouchette of his team’s overall mark. “It’s probably the best record we’ve had here since (19)93. We haven’t had a .500 team since ’93. That’s the most wins we’ve had since I’ve been here.
“We’ve got to win the games we should win (to get to districts),” added Bouchette. “A .500 record is not going to get it done, not with the power rankings. You’ve got to get as many as you can. Our section (Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League) is tough. Our top three teams are high seeds in the district. But it (reaching districts) would be a nice boost for these kids, especially being young and having a lot of them back next year.”
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Williams. “We’re a young team. We knew it would be a learning year, a growing year.
“I think last year we would have been more competitive (with Northern Lebanon),” Williams added. “I don’t want to take anything away from this year’s team. Last year’s team was more experienced.”
Sophomore guard Sam Light led Northern Lebanon with 14 points, despite limited playing time. Viking reserves Bruce Gerberich and Isaac Ray netted 13 and 10 points, respectively.
Dawson tallied 21 of his team’s 30.
“He’s dominant inside,” said Williams of Lawson. “He’s hard to stop. It takes two guys to guard him. This is only his fourth year of playing basketball, so he’s still learning. He’s one of those kids who grew up too fast and now the rest of him is catching up.”
“He’s a solid kid,” said Bouchette of Lawson. “Once he caught the ball down low it was tough to stop him.”