BY JEFF FALK
ASSUMPTION HILL – It had everything.
Tough match-ups. Talent. Back-and-forth action. A high-energy audience. Many meaningful possessions. In-your-mug defense. Drama. Intensity.
Or put another way, it was simply the best basketball game in Lebanon County this season.
On Friday night on Assumption Hill, it was Northern Lebanon which made a couple more plays in crunch time, knocked down a few more free throws down the stretch, came up with one more loose ball when it mattered most to fend off Lebanon Catholic 57-51. Following a nip-and-tuck first half, the Vikings forged themselves a bit of breathing room in the third quarter, then held on for dear life in the waning moments.
With the score knotted at 43 midway through the final period, Northern Lebanon got two charity tosses from Sam Light and a critical three-pointer from Pat Stevens to open a 48-43 margin it would never relinquish. A tough ‘take to the hole’ from Light, with 1:52 to go, extended the Vikings’ cushion to 52-45, before the heady junior guard made five-of-six free throws in the final 50 seconds.
The triumph moved surprising Northern Lebanon to 10-4 overall, 6-3 in Section Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League and one step closer to a rare District Three Class AAA postseason berth. The loss made Lebanon Catholic 11-3 on the year and 6-3 in Section Four of the L-L.
“That should’ve been for everyone,” said Northern Lebanon head coach Gary Bouchette of the contest’s entertainment value. “I don’t care if you came here to root for Northern Lebanon or Lebanon Catholic. I know it was tough communicating to my players at times.
“They’re (the Beavers) a good team,” Bouchette continued. “They were 11-2. That’s a quality club right there. Those are the types of teams we have to beat to get where we want to go.”
“It’s what high school basketball is all about,” said Lebanon Catholic head coach Scott Clentimack. “Friday night. A rivalry. And you had some strong players here. People came here to see Northern Lebanon play. People came here to see Lebanon Catholic play. And you had basketball fans here. It was great.
“Yeah, it was a good game,” continued Clentimack. “But I expected that. We’re playing well and they’re on a roll. It was two teams playing really, really well. Somebody had to lose.”
Down 21-18 at the intermission, the Vikings hit the Beavers with five Light points in the first minute of the second half. Lebanon Catholic regained its advantage at 30-29, with 3:17 left in the third, on a Timmy Orr trey.
But the Beavers could manage only three points over the remainder of the stanza, and a trey from Stevens gave Northern Lebanon a 39-33 lead for the final push. The Beavers’ answer was a 10-4 run early in the fourth quarter that forged yet another tie.
“That makes it tough for defenders,” said Bouchette of the 6-3 Stevens’ shooting touch. “It makes it hard for post players to cover him.
“We’re getting there (becoming a good team),” added Bouchette. “Obviously we have to be (a good team) to be able to beat some of these teams. From the beginning of the season to now, there’s no comparison. I don’t know if there’s any one key. Around Christmas time we figured out we could be here, that we can play with anyone.”
“I was very surprised how Stevens shot the ball,” said Clentimack. “I didn’t think he’d come in here and make five threes. Ultimately, I thought he was more of a difference than Sammy was.
“Plus the one thing about the match-ups, they’re two big scorers didn’t have to play against our scorers,” continued Clentimack. “They didn’t have to expend as much energy on defense. It may have taken its toll in the end.”
Light poured in a game-high 29 points on nine-of-ten free throwing, while Stevens knocked down those five threes and counted 23 points. Stevens and Light were responsible for the first 25 points Northern Lebanon scored.
Orr canned 22 Beaver points and Alex Frattaroli tossed in 15. The defense of Northern Lebanon’s Richard Iwuagwu limited prolific Beaver Anthony Pletz to eight points.
“The match-ups were huge,” said Bouchette. “Just us trying to figure out who to put where. I think they (the Beavers) struggled more at times with them than we did. They can shoot the ball and penetrate, which makes it tough to stop. And their role players do what they’re supposed to do.
“I always think Sam can get better,” Bouchette added. “He’s improving. I think he’s feeling he can score on anyone.
“Going in, as far as match-ups go, we knew Sammy Light was going to get his,” Clentimack said. “You’ve just got to make him work for it. Plus you’ve got to keep him off the line. He started off a little show, and then picked up his game.
“I knew they (the Vikings) were going to be good,” added Clentimack. “At times, they can be their own worst enemy, like when they played Annville-Cleona. But they’re very talented. Sammy is as good as they come. You can’t take one thing away from him. He’s one of the top players around. He’s got a good basketball IQ.”
Stevens got off quickly and helped his Vikes to an early 7-4 edge. But Lebanon Catholic erupted for an 8-0 run that was capped by a Frattaroli jump hook that gave the Beavers a 12-7 margin.
A three-ball from Orr four minutes before halftime made it an 18-14 LC lead.
“More than anything, it was huge,” said Bouchette of the result. “We’ve had a tough week, but we got two out of three. My approach was to put Sunshine (Daymon Long) on Orr and put Richard (Iwuagwu) on Pletz. He (Orr) still scored his points, but we slowed his penentration.”
“I’ll be honest, I thought it (the score) would be in the 70s or 80s,” said Clentimack. “I thought it was going to be a shooting match. Maybe they (the Vikes) were better defensively than I thought they’d be.
“Even when they’re (the Vikings) not the most talented team, Gary’s teams always play hard and always play physical,” Clentimack continued. “Now they have a nice combination of talent and effort.”
“We talked about who wins the rebounding wins the game,” said Bouchette. “In the first half, we played too much one-on-one and settled for jump shots. In the second half, we played more like a team.”
“We were nine-for-18 from the foul line. That didn’t help,” said Clentimack. “The three things that are key for us are getting defensive stops, taking care of the ball and making foul shots. Nine-for-18, we’re better than that. There were three misses with less than three minutes left, that’s crucial. Those are freebies, and you’ve got to take them.”