BY JEFF FALK
FREDERICKSBURG – Not quite sure about this notion of ‘signature’ wins. Partly because there’s a lot to be said for beating the teams one should beat.
Now what exactly that debate has to do with Northern Lebanon’s win over Lebanon Catholic, well that’s anyone’s guess.
On Tuesday night in front of a packed house, the Vikings defeated the Beavers 75-64, in a high-octane battle of local clubs with defined ceilings on their regular-season successes. After the Beavers had rallied from an early double-digit deficit, Northern Lebanon regained control early in the fourth quarter, before turning the outcome over to its four-corner, spread offense.
With the win, Northern Lebanon improved to 11-4 overall and 5-4 in Section Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League. The loss made Lebanon Catholic, the top ranked Class A club in District Three, 10-4 on the year and 5-4 in Section Four of the L-L.
Northern Lebanon head coach Gary Bouchette was non-committal as to whether or not a win over Lebanon Catholic constituted a ‘signature’ win.
“If you’re looking at district points, it’s a big win, because if you lose, it hurts,” said Bouchette, whose club currently stands 12th in Class AAA. “Lebanon Catholic is at the top of their district (Class A). It’s a good win for us.
“I’m not complaining,” he added. “It’s still early yet.”
“The section doesn’t matter to us,” said Lebanon Catholic head coach Scott Clentimack. “We don’t even talk about it. If we get to the league playoffs it’s just icing on the cake. Right now, we’ve got to get out of a funk and beat Elco on Friday. That’s a game we should win. We want to get a win under our belt and get back on track.
“I don’t know where we’re at,” continued Clentimack. “We lost two in-a-row and no, we’re not playing as well as when we were 10-2. I can’t put my finger on it. We are not without our flaws. Teams with numbers of superior athletes are able to expose those flaws. But we know what our flaws are.”
On this night at least, one of those Catholic flaws was defense.
Riding the wave of a 23-point opening period, Northern Lebanon opened a 29-17 lead on a Richard Iwuagwu drive two minutes into the second stanza.But the Beavers responded with an Anthony Pletz and Alex Frattaroli-led 13-3 spurt in the middle of the third quarter to tie the score at 42.
Viking Isaac Ray short-circuited the Catholic momentum with a trey, and teammate Sammy Light found his way to the cup for a deuce that made it 47-42. And Northern Lebanon was never seriously headed the rest of the way.
“I think that was the smartest game we played all year,” said Bouchette. “They (the Beavers) made their runs. But instead of us trying to match them, we weathered the storm. And then we made our runs.
“It is always a fast-paced game when we play them,” Bouchette added. “They get out and run. That’s how they score their points. But I thought we could match their fast break.”
“That was key,” said Clentimack of Ray’s trey. “We had tied the game. We did everything to get back into it, and then on the next possession Ray runs away from our bench and no one goes with him, and he drains a ‘three’.
“Those small things are hurting us right now,” Clentimack continued. “Those are the things, you’re on a run and ‘boom’. That’s a big possession. If that doesn’t happen, who knows what happens.”
Northern Lebanon notched seven of the first ten points in the final period and took a 59-46 margin with 6:22 remaining, on another tough ‘take’ from Light. It was at that point that the Vikings went’ ‘spread’, and they scored their last 16 points of the game at the foul line.
“They (the Beavers) had to come out and plays us, being down,” said Bouchette. “I don’t think they have the quickness to play our guards. I wasn’t stalling, just trying to spread the floor. When they got in foul trouble, their defensive pressure really slowed down.
“They (the Beavers) made their runs,” Bouchette continued. “But at the five-minute mark of the fourth quarter, I thought we had control of the game.”
“We gave up 75, yeah we need to be tougher defensively,” said Clentimack. “We understand the defensive philosophy, we try hard but we’re not tough enough. It’s a physical thing. Teams do whatever they want against us.
“Sure, it was run-and-gun for a while,” Clentimack added. “They like to shoot it up, and so do we. They just did it a little better than us.”
With Light, who sat most of the second quarter with foul difficulties, showing the way with 25 points, Northern Lebanon’s scoring was balanced. Ray canned 18 points, Christian Morales collected a huge 16 and Iwuagwu contributed 12.
On the Catholic side, Jaylon Colon poured in a career-high 22 points, while Frattaroli struck for 19 and Pletz pumped in 12. Despite Pletz’s dozen, Iwuagwu did an effective defensive job on him.
The Vikings outscored the Beavers by ten points at the foul stripe.
“It depends on the team we’re playing,” said Bouchette of the effect Light’s second-period absence had on his side. “We were able to slow it down and run sets. We didn’t try to force the issue.”
“He plays hard,” said Clentimack of Colon. “That’s the stuff he had to do. Teams are focusing on Anthony and Alex. He didn’t force it. Tonight he let it come to him.”
Thanks to a Ray three-pointer, the Vikings were nursing a 14-12 edge midway through the opening period. But on the strength of a pair of foul shots from Light, a Morales lay-in, a drive by Ray and then a conventional three-point play from Morales, Northern Lebanon closed the opening set on a 9-3 spurt.
“We’re going to have to get some help,” said Bouchette of the Vikings’ Section Three chances. “Manheim Central is three games up on us. Anything is possible. Who knows? It was definitely a goal for us, and I’m not saying it’s still not a goal.
“It’s still so early. Things (district rankings) can fluctuate,” continued Bouchette. “I’m not concerned yet. It’s too early. We’d like to fall around that ten-12 spot. You’ve got to play somebody anyway.”
“Lighty is as god as they come,” said Clentimack. “When his head is in the game, he’s tough. Ray can shoot it up and Iwuagwu can shoot the three. What’s going to hurt Northern Lebanon in AAA is they won’t be able to match up with the big guys. But they’ve got a nice team.”