ANNVILLE – Good teams aren’t going to perform well every time out. But just because they don’t play well doesn’t mean they can’t come away with wins.
It’s kind of what grinding, work, determination and defense are all about.
Friday, on a night when they weren’t necessarily at their best, the Northern Lebanon girls’ basketball team made a way to win, imposing its will upon and defeating Annville-Cleona 30-21. The Vikings seized control of the contest with a 12-3 run through the third quarter, then nailed a bunch of free throws down the stretch.
Despite converting only six field goal attempts, Northern Lebanon’s Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three opener was a success. The Vikings are now 3-1 overall and 1-0 in the circuit, while the Little Dutchmen fell to 1-2 on the year and 0-1 in Section Four of the L-L.
“Coaches try to coach the best they can,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Ken Battistelli. “At one point, (senior point guard Emily) Brandt wasn’t playing well, and I told her, ‘Just get mad’. It was determination. We didn’t play well, but we played hard. And the kids tried to do their best.
“If we were struggling and weren’t 3-1 we’d be more concerned,” continued Battistelli. “But when you’re having success it gives you the will to keep plugging away. It’s what gets you to go to work everyday.”
“Offensively, we’ll be fine, especially if we play like we did in the first half,” said Annville-Cleona head coach Jamie Walborn. “Tonight was about mental toughness. I told the girls going into the fourth quarter, ‘Who’s going to be able to forget what happened in the third quarter when we missed all those shots?’ We tried to, but then when it didn’t work, we became impatient.
“If they’re (the Vikings) going to take anything away from this, it’s that they played great defense,” Walborn continued. “They forced us beyond the three-point line. They pressured us, and we fell to the pressure.”
Nursing a 14-13 edge, Northern Lebanon scored six unanswered points during a span of 56 seconds early in the third period. Kristen Lessing scored four of those on an offensive rebound and two free throws, while teammate Mariah LiBrandi knocked down a jumper.
Then the Vikings held the Little Dutchmen without a score of any kind for a stretch of six minutes that spilled over into the middle of the final stanza, and took a 23-15 advantage on a foul shot from Brandt. It was the first of eight foul shots Brandt would make in the final quarter, as she netted all of her team’s points during the stanza, effectively keeping A-C at bay.
“Honestly, I really thought we played defense,” said Battistelli. “Neither team executed well on offense. They (the Little Dutchmen) played good defense. I told the girls you’ve got to feel good when you play your tail off and come away with a victory. It was a big league game, and it was nice to start that way.
“It’s probably my fault,” said Battistelli. “We made a change to our motion offense because I thought it suited our talents better. It might be taking a while to adjust to, and we’re not executing it well. We’re going to have to iron things out. But I thought we had some real good looks in our sets.”
“Defensively, we couldn’t play much better,” said Walborn. “Individually we played well, and as a team we played well defensively.”
The first half was a tightly-played, hotly-contested affair.
Brandt’s banked three-pointer midway though the opening period gave the Vikings an 8-6 lead. But Northern Lebanon went cold for the next 7:15, and Annville-Cleona assumed a 12-8 margin on two jumpers from Barb Inman and an Elaina Wanamker drive down the lane.
The teams combined for a total of four points in the second period.
“This might sound dumb, but because all of our kids are capable of scoring, we try to score before we’re ready,” said Battistelli. “It’s all about reading the defense and making the right cuts. When kids are confident they just react. But they (the Little Dutchmen) really played good defense.
“We haven’t played well offensively,” Battistelli added. “It’s been a struggle for consistency. Thankfully they’re (his players) playing defense. Everybody’s just trying to find their roles. Everybody has struggled offensively this year. I think they try to do more than they need to.”
“In the first half, I thought we got good shots, but we weren’t making them,” said Walborn. “In the second half, they (her players) weren’t mentally strong enough to deal with it, and we weren’t patient. I don’t think our shot selection in the second half was as good as it was in the first half.”
With 13 points, Brandt was the only scorer on either side to reach double digits. Before Brandt ultimately emerged with the upper hand, she had battled Annville-Cleona junior Alex Siebecker on even terms most of the evening.
A good chunk of Brandt’s points came on ten-for-14 shooting at the charity stripe. The Vikings outscored Annville-Cleona, which went five-for-nine at the foul line, by 12 points there.
“I’ll be honest, I truly believe that Smitty’s (Taylor Smith) match-up with Wanamaker (seven points) was the key match-up for us,” said Battistelli. “I thought Smitty did a wonderful job on her. Siebecker is a super athlete, and so is Brandt. But Wanamaker is the kid we set out to stop. Emily’s going to do things out of pure talent.”
“That’s (Brandt versus Siebecker) a good match-up because they’re very similar players,” said Walborn. “Both are long. Both are quick. Both can shoot. Both can drive. I thought we contained her (Brandt). She’s such a good player you can’t shut her down. But I don’t feel like any one player beat us.
“I think we’ll be fine in our section,” Walborn continued. “I think we have some adjustments to make offensively, but we’ll be OK, especially if we build on our defense. 1-2 is disappointing, but we played some good teams. We’ll learn from it. Have to. We’ve got to bounce back.”