BY JEFF FALK
ASSUMPTION HILL – The Northern Lebanon girls’ basketball team is just a little bit ahead of its counterpart from Lebanon Catholic – approximately the margin between sophomores and freshmen. And when you’re a little bit ahead of someone it can translate into a head start, or at the very least a fast one.
On Monday evening, the Vikings’ Lancaster-Lebanon Section Three-Four crossover contest with the Beavers was all about youth, the start and a youthful start. Northern Lebanon rode a sophomore-fueled great beginning to a 50-33 triumph over the freshmen-rich Beavers.
Northern Lebanon was never seriously threatened after notching 15 of the game’s first 16 points and opening a 14-point margin late in the opening period. While the Vikings played well enough to keep Catholic at arm’s length the rest of the way, neither did the Beavers roll over.
The win upped surprising Northern Lebanon’s overall record to 4-1 and pushed its Section Three mark to 2-0. Lebanon Catholic slipped to 2-2 on the year and 0-2 in Section Four.
“The start of the game was critical,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Ken Battistelli. “With us, it usually takes time to get into a rhythm. But it doesn’t take rhythm to hit the offensive boards. We don’t press a lot, we grind. When we don’t have to grind so much, it’s huge for us.
“I think our youthfulness rears its head game after game,” continued Battsitelli. “When you get out to a lead like that, it’s easy to relax. When you play like a knucklehead, they’re (the Beavers) going to score some easy points. We’re not good enough to let up. We’re still trying to learn what a good shot is and what a bad shot is. That only comes from experience.
“I thought it was the difference in the game,” said Lebanon Catholic head coach Patti Hower of the start. “We might have lost anyway. It just makes a difference. The rest of the game we’re battling back and they (the Vikings) have confidence. We weren’t making the shots we needed to make.
“It changes what we did defensively,” Hower continued. “That sometimes isn’t a horrible thing. I was pretty pleased with our press. The confidence was the big thing. But I didn’t see them (her players) give up.”
Lebanon Catholic led once, 1-0 on a free throw from freshman Celine Mars 58 seconds into the contest. But with sophomore Megan Brandt pounding the offensive glass, tenth-grader Zoe Zerman running the show from the top of the circle and the Beavers plagued by unforced turnovers, Northern Lebanon tallied the next 15 points to open a 15-1 bulge.
Evenutally, the Vikings’ advantage reached 26-9 on an Amber Kintzer lay-in, 2:12 before the intermission. But Lebanon Catholic notched the final five points of the second quarter – thanks to an inside move from Hayley Witmer and a three-pointer by freshman Mariah Sholly – to slice its halftime deficit to 26-14.
“It’s great,” said Battistelli of his club’s 4-1 start. “Last year, we weren’t in the same spot, and we have the same team. You can see the youth in their play. But I like where we’re at.
“I thought we got off to a good start because Brandt asserted herself early,” Battistelli added. “We were able to play with that lead. They (the Beavers) have the ability to make that leap. They’re going to be tough. When Patti coaches them up, they’ll be monsters in the near future. I’m just glad we got to play them early.”
“It was a replay of the Elco game,” said Hower of a 20-point loss to the Raiders on Friday night. “We got off to a bad start and we weren’t physical. But we did some good things. We need to correct our boxing out and foul shooting. That’ll go a long way in helping us. I just have to be patient.
“They (the Vikings) go and get the ball,” added Hower. “I think we’re learning each time out, and hopefully we can make some corrections. But Northern Lebanon is tough. Hopefully we can get a win somewhere and build up the confidence.”
With 18 points apiece, Brandt and Zerman shared team-high and game-high scoring honors. Sholly recorded 12 Beaver points, while Witmer registered ten.
On 12-of-20 shooting, Northern Lebanon, which was without the services of the injured Elizabeth Voight, outscored Lebanon Catholic by nine points at the charity stripe.
“They can be overwhelming, each in different ways,” said Battistelli of Zerman and Brandt. “When you take one thing away, the other one is there. They’re nice to have. They’re good young players, and they’re getting better.
“At this stage of her development, she’s (Brandt) more suited to play inside,” Battistelli continued. “With her long arms, she’s tough to deal with in there. One thing we always struggle with is garbage points. But she gave us that tonight.”
“Zerman and Brandt are tough,” said Hower. “That’s a tough inside and outside combination. Zerman has a complete game. She had a nice game tonight.
“I thought Mariah played well,” continued Hower. “Hayley is off and on. We’re late passing inside, and that’s experience. I tell the girls, ‘If you don’t throw it inside right away, don’t throw it’.”
The Beavers pulled to within ten points of the Vikings twice, early in the second half, at 26-16 on a jumper from Mars and at 28-18 on a bucket by Sholly. But Northern Lebanon held Catholic without a point for a four-minute stretch later in the third period, and re-upped its lead to 35-19 – on free throws from Zerman, Brandt, Ashley Lessing and Marissa Yingst.
“When you do have two anchors, it’s easier to fill in around,” said Battistelli. “Hannah Reese is really asserting herself as an inside player. Ashley Lessing filled in nicely, but Mo (Morgan Phillips) had a tough game today because she’s really under the weather.”
“We did not give up,” said Hower. “Things weren’t going great, but we don’t have to get it back all at once. We have to keep plugging away.”
Northern Lebanon finally did put the outcome to rest in the middle of the fourth quarter, tallying six straight points to push a 15-point margin to 50-29. Brandt, Phillips and Resse all posted a pair of points for the Vikes.
“They’re extremely athletic,” said Battistelli of the Beavers. “The thing that really surprised me was how physically strong and powerful they were. They’re going to be difficult to deal with in the future.”
“There’s going to come a point where we’re not going to be able to use it as an excuse,” said Hower of her club’s youthfulness. “But we are developing. We haven’t taken it into a game. I think it’s our lack of skills. Our skills have to be better and we have to understand the game better.”