BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – They say females have a higher threshold of pain than males.
The Northern Lebanon girls’ basketball team has certainly encountered its share of pain and injuries this season, and experienced even more last night. But where the Vikings’ body has faltered, their collective mind, character and spirit have provided compensation and consolation.
On Friday, a night in which they almost certainly lost senior do-it-all Emily Brandt for the rest of the year, the Vikings wore down and wore out Pequea Valley 56-38. Northern Lebanon used aggressive defense and accurate free throwing to pull away from the Braves in the second half.
Ironically, it was a Brandt three-pointer with 2:45 remaining in the second quarter that gave Northern Lebanon a 7-5 lead it would never relinquish. But 34 seconds later, the point guard was lying on the court writhing in pain from the re-injury of a right knee in which she tore her ACL two weeks earlier against Manheim Central.
After being diagnosed with a torn ACL, Brandt decided to lace up a bulky knee-brace and give it a go. But last night, after coming off the bench for the third straight game, the odds caught up to Brandt, as she was chasing down a loose ball in the corner of the Northern Lebanon offensive end.
Yet it wasn’t the only injury the Vikings sustained on the evening. With 4:08 left in the third quarter, and Northern Lebanon building on a 37-17 lead, Viking forwards Kristen Lessing and Morgan Phillips got tangled up and spilled awkwardly on the court.
While Lessing later returned, Phillips had to be carried off the floor, and never did.
Northern Lebanon is now 11-5 overall, and 8-3 and in second place in Section Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. Pequea Valley fell to 5-12 on the year and 2-9 in Section Four of the L-L.
“I wish those nights would cease and desist,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Ken Battistelli. “We’re just a big, giant rollercoaster. I just can’t take how kids are getting injured now. I can’t take it. You just hate to see those kids get hurt.
“The bottom line for me is I just want them to have an opportunity to keep on fighting,” Battistelli continued. “It stinks that it takes away an opportunity to play. They just want to play and they want to try.”
“When I saw it (Brandt’s re-injury) I was like, ‘Shoot. This is not good,’” said forward Taylor Smith, who led the Vikings in scoring with 16 points. “I was really worried because it’s her senior year. Everyone wants her to play.
“We’re an all-around good team,” added Smith. “But if she’s not there, we can play without her. She’s a very important part of the team, but we can do well without her.”
Not only did the Vikings shake off Brandt’s re-injury, they used it as the launching pad for an 8-2 run that gave them a 12-7 lead at the end of the opening quarter. It was 17-11 when Northern Lebanon ripped off a Mariah LiBrandi-inspired 10-2 burst that pushed their advantage to 27-13 at the break.
“I thought we did play pretty well, especially when you consider all the little things that went on inside the game,” said Battistelli. “When you lose an Em’, get an Em’ back and lose an Em’ again, and then lose two other starters and put in two kids with no varsity experience, I don’t think we played bad at all. I thought we played well defensively and executed our offense. But it’s hard to look at this game from strictly a basketball perspective.
“It is an opportunity,” Battistellli added. “But I’m not sure if I can make it sound good. All I know is we’ve been playing our best basketball since she (Brandt) went down. But no one can say we’re a better team without her.”
“It was definitely very aggressive,” said Smith. “But that was the best game we played this year, and it was the best kind of game we played this year. Every girl is important to us. We want to win and be able to say we’re a good team. We want to be able to prove we’re a team, even though we don’t have everyone there.”
To complement Smith’s 16, Northern Lebanon also got 14 points from Lessing and ten points and a solid all-around performance by anointed point guard LiBrandi. The Vikings went a torrid 18-for-21 at the charity stripe, while Pequea Valley made only nine of 23 attempts.
“OK. I saw her go down,” said Battistelli of Brandt, his coach on the floor. “I thought ‘crap’. I tried not to react. I paused a couple of seconds and when she didn’t get right back up, then realization set in. Even before this injury, she wasn’t the type of kid to go down and show pain.
“It (playing with a torn ACL) was a decision she made,” Battistelli contined. “When I heard about it all I could say is she is so tied to this basketball team, this school and her teammates. I don’t think she ever considered, if there was a chance, of not playing. She’s not wired that way. When they (the doctors) told her she could brace it up and come back, it was like ‘it’s what I have to do’.”
“I thought we were more aggressive and we got on the boards,” said Smith. “When our starters went down it was like ‘we’ve got to keep it together’ and we played as a team. I always look at Emily as a sister. She’s a very important part of this team. I just hope she can come back to the court soon.”
After Phillips and Lessing went down, Smith tallied seven straight Northern Lebanon points, including a turn-around with 1:44 left in the third that pushed her club’s bulge to 44-20. An offensive putback from Lessing three minutes into the final quarter made it a 50-27 game.
“That’s 100 percent true,” said Battistelli. “I think everybody would be lying if they said they didn’t think we were done when Brandt got hurt. But since then, I’ve tried to be harder on them (his players). And they certainly haven’t wilted. If anything, they’ve blossomed. Each one has elevated her game.
“There has never been any other goal for us than to win the section,” Battistelli added. “If I told you the goals didn’t change for me when Emily went down, I’d be lying. But the girls’ goals haven’t changed. It’s sad because I really liked the make-up of our team.”
“We’re looking forward to the rest of the season,” said Smith. “We want to make leagues (playoffs) and districts, and go somewhere in districts. We’re heading up to the Giant Center this year. That’s our big goal.”