BY JEFF FALK
NEFFSVILLE – It started as some pre-game jitters and early nervousness. And when it was unable to channel those nerves into positive energy, frustration set in.
Eventually, that frustration escalated into self-doubt.
The cause of the Northern Lebanon girls’ basketball team’s emotional landslide? Its opponent, more than the venue.
On Wednesday night, the Vikings were totally off their game – or taken out of it – against home-standing Manheim Township, in the quarterfinals of the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs. The Vikings never led, experienced difficulties scoring the basketball and ultimately fell to the Blue Streaks 50-25.
Northern Lebanon, which was making its second appearance in the league playoffs in three seasons, fell to 15-8 on the year. The Vikings, the runners-up from Section Three, will next compete at home on Friday against Susquehannock, in a play-in game to the District Three Class AAA playoffs.
For Section One champion Manheim Township, the win was its 15th straight and lifted it to 19-2 overall and into Wednesday’s semifinal round of the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs.
“I thought everybody was frustrated,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Ken Battistelli. “I didn’t know what strings to pull. I know the kids didn’t know what buttons to push. We never got on a roll. I really don’t know why we didn’t play our best. I thought we prepared well.
“I really didn’t think we were nervous before the game,” Battistelli added. “But at times it looked like we were. We just didn’t look sharp.”
Northern Lebanon struggled through a number of extended scoring droughts against MT’s man-to-man and pressure defenses. The killer was a 7:35 stretch prior to halftime, when the Blue Streaks were turning a three-point lead into an 18-8 cushion.
Manheim Township increased its advantage to 17 points by notching the first seven points of the second half. Although the Vikes never recovered, they never quit.
“It wasn’t the effort,” said Battistelli. “The kids do their best. But we had to have a good mental game. What we do on offense is so much about execution.
“It reminded me of some of the other games we’ve played this year,” added Battistelli. “We never really executed well. We missed a whole lot of peepers. We never got comfortable. With their (the Blue Streaks’) length, they can sag off of you and still not give up drives.”
Junior point guard Emily Brandt’s nine points was the most a Northern Lebanon scorer could muster. The Vikings converted just six of their 13 free throw attempts.
“I have to talk to my staff and talk to the kids and identify why we didn’t play well,” said Battistelli. “I don’t know if it was confidence or nerves. But we’ve got to come out and be crisper.
“I could tell our screening and cutting weren’t crisp,” continued Battistelli. “That makes it very hard to get off our shots. But we didn’t finish around the rim.”
It took five minutes for the Vikings to get on the scoreboard. But when they did, Brandt’s three-pointer and subsequent jumper tied the game at five.
Then a Taylor Smith lay-up, off a nice feed from Brandt, pulled Northern Lebanon to within 11-8 early in the second stanza.
“I thought we played pretty well defensively,” said Battistelli. “The nice thing about defense is it’s mostly effort, and you don’t need those fine motor skills.
“They’re (the Blue Streaks) deceptively good,” Battistelli continued. “Their length is tricky to deal with.”
Manheim Township led 30-13 after three periods. Its lead eventually reached 46-19.
“I remember watching my sister (Gina) play in the league playoffs, Cedar Crest winning it and it was exciting,” said Battistelli. “To me, I think it’s (the league playoffs) great. It crosses barriers and allows small schools to play big schools. Each one (playoff tournament) represents a completely different experience, and each one is special in its own way.
“I think everybody is looking forward to it (hosting the district play-in game),” Battistelli continued. “But it’s hard for me to think about that right now. I’m just trying to figure out why we didn’t play our best. We obviously have more than we showed tonight. Together we’ve got to figure out a way next game to be in the right mindset. Everybody was disappointed we didn’t play our best game.”