Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Despite injuries, Vikings keep winning
2012-13 L-L GIRLS' LEADERS SCORING 3-POINT SHOTS MADE FREE THROWS MADE BY JASON FULGINITI, Sports Staff
He had one of the best players in the Lancaster-Lebanon League in senior point guard Emily Brandt, along with a solid, proven supporting cast of four seniors.
And when his team started the season 5-2 -- with its only losses coming at the hands of Lancaster Catholic (which is still undefeated) and Pine Grove (currently ranked fourth in the state in Class AA by MaxPreps) -- Northern Lebanon girls' basketball coach Ken Battistelli's instincts were beginning to be confirmed.
It was going to be a good year.
All things considered, it still is.
With three games left in the regular season, Northern Lebanon (10-3 L-L, 13-6 overall) is fighting -- literally -- for Section Three's second and final L-L playoff berth, which it can clinch tonight with a home win over Elco (8-5, 11-8).
How the Vikings got in that position is anybody's guess.
"It's really a matter of the seniors on this team wanting to have a successful campaign," Battistelli said. "I'm just so proud of them. They've given me everything they've got."
They were kind of forced to.
Just two days after scoring a season-high 20 points in a 60-41 loss to Lancaster Catholic on Dec. 19, Brandt tore the ACL in her left leg early in the second quarter of the Vikings' 47-39 victory over Manheim Central.
Despite its severity, Brandt -- who led the team in scoring last year with a 15.2 points-per-game average and was leading it again with an 11.3 average through Northern Lebanon's first seven games -- had no intention of letting the injury end her season.
She spent the next six games on the bench before getting a doctor's clearance to try playing again, providing she would wear a brace.
Brandt returned to the lineup Jan. 11, when she scored six points against Lebanon Catholic, but the mobility that fueled her success in the past wasn't there.
She didn't score a point in the Vikings' win over Columbia on Dec. 15.
And three days later, after scoring three points in the first quarter against Pequea Valley, Brandt went down again.
This time, the season was over.
"When (the ACL) went the second time, that was tough for everybody," Battistelli said. "When she (hurt) it again, that seemed like it broke a lot of hearts. It was so much more emotionally tougher than (just) basketball goes."
As it turns out, the devastation was only beginning.
By the time that PV game was over, starting sophomore forward Morgan Phillips had torn her right ACL and was done for the year.
Then came this past Friday, when Mariah LiBrandi -- who had been filling in for Brandt at the point -- suffered a potentially severe ankle injury in practice.
Her status, according to Battistelli, was unknown as of Sunday night.
Still, the Vikings play on toward a playoff spot.
"They're stubborn suckers," Battistelli said of his players.
As is their coach, it seems.
"I was just devastated (for Brandt and Phillips after the PV game)," Battistelli said. "But you have to just get over it so fast. I couldn't give up on the team we still had. I couldn't sulk.
"And (from that point on) I really turned up the intensity in practice and, as luck would have it, they all responded. They've all taken their game to another level."
Without Brandt and Phillips, senior forward Taylor Smith and senior center Kristen Lessing -- along with LiBrandi --have picked up a lot of the slack.
Since Brandt first went down Dec. 21, LiBrandi's boosted her average from 7.8 points per game to 11.3, Smith has gone from 8.6 to 10.2, and Lessing from 9.4 to 10.4.
"Smith and Lessing are working inside like madmen," Battistelli said with a chuckle, "and somehow we score enough to win."
With Brandt and Phillips on the bench, cheering them on the whole way.
"They come to every practice, every game, and they hang out like they normally would," Battistelli said.
Perhaps it's the mere presence of Brandt and Phillips that has helped the Vikings win five of their last six games, putting them in their current position. A position that might have been even better had things happened differently.
"It's been so neat on one hand and so sad on the other hand," Battistelli said. "I couldn't help but be proud, but on the other hand I'm thinking 'We're playing so well and we're without one of the best players (Brandt) in the county.' "
Actually one of the best in the league. And still they're winning.
"I don't know if surprised is the right word," Battistelli said of his team's success, despite all the obstacles. "Maybe impressed is the better word."
Kind of hard not to be.
Gillian Glackin, Solanco21.0
Porscha Speller, Lancaster Catholic18.3
Jenna Plastino, Columbia18.1
Cheyenne Hassler, Elco16.1
Sarah Haddon, Ephrata15.9
Abby Shay, Lebanon Catholic15.7
Jada Dunsen, Lancaster Mennonite15.4
Lexie Lantz, Lampeter-Strasburg15.1
Marissa Gingrich, Cocalico14.9
Jahnae Hall-Gaddy, Conestoga Valley13.9
Holly Marinkov, Lebanon Catholic41
Cheyenne Hassler, Elco40
Madison Derr, Warwick30
Helene Reist, Lebanon Catholic29
Shaela Shellehamer, Lebanon29
Brittany Ulrich, Lebanon27
Alex Siebecker, Annville-Cleona26
Morgan Hollis, Northern Lebanon24
Megan Seibert, Columbia22
Lauren Chambers, Lebanon21
Gillian Glackin, Solanco103
Abby Shay, Lebanon Catholic94
Marissa Gingrich, Cocalico85
Sarah Haddon, Ephrata78
Alyssa Hershey, Pequea Valley58
Mariah LiBrandi, Northern Lebanon58
Jenna Plastino, Columbia57
Kelly Shertzer, Penn Manor57
Ayanda Jefferson-McGill, McCaskey52
Elaina Wanamaker, Annville-Cleona50
-- Compiled by Jason Fulginiti