Lancaster Catholic Gets Tested, Shows Resolve As Crusaders Stave Off Northern Lebanon For Key Divisional Victory
Written by: Andy Herr on Thursday, January 14th, 2021
If you’re ever pressed into having the discussion as to which home courts in the Lancaster-Lebanon League seem to always to be the most formidable, Northern Lebanon is always a reliable place to start. Whether it be the fact that the school itself seems to be out in the middle of nowhere, nestled In between I-78 at the base of Blue Mountain, or the fact that mustard-colored walls seem to always play tricks with the mind, the cozy confines of the Vikings’ home floor always seems to resemble that of a trip to the dentist’s office rather than that of a basketball game. In fact, no really seems to be immune. Yes, even Lancaster Catholic.
As far back as many can remember, the Crusaders have long run roughshod over the competition in whichever division of the L-L League that have found themselves residing in. And even while lengthy Lancaster Catholic seasons have largely culminated in the acquisition of more hardware and the hanging of more banners, the trips up to Fredericksburg, Lebanon County are likely always some of the Crusaders’ most unique and challenging contests on a perennial basis. Granted, while this year is undoubtedly “different,” a visit to the smallest gymnasium in the entire league is never exactly a treat, whether at full capacity or not, but that was precisely the task placed in front of the Crusaders on Wednesday night. And as if the playing in the “Snake Pit” wasn’t nearly enough, the game itself figured to likely shoulder most of the burden in terms of how the landscape of Section Four would end up playing itself out for the remainder of the season given that the Vikings just so happen to have the most collective talent they’ve had on their roster over the last handful of seasons, along with the fact that Lancaster Catholic is well, Lancaster Catholic quite frankly, where expectations are never hidden nor sacrificed. Even still, while the Crusaders were still pressed to their limit at times over the course of 32 minutes on Wednesday night, Lancaster Catholic’s collective resolve ended up being the main takeaway at the end of the night.
Ironically, for as formidable as playing up at Northern Lebanon always seems to be, the Crusaders appeared relatively unphased coming out of the chute. For that, consider that Catholic was able to race out to the early 7-0 lead just two minutes in following an offensive rebound and put-back from 5’10 senior guard, Nevin Roman, before an Owen Treadway 3-ball down on the other end gave the Vikings their first points of the evening immediately following the Roman bucket. Speaking of the offensive glass, Lancaster Catholic owned it, cleaned it, and just flat-out dismantled Northern Lebanon on it in the opening eight minutes. As if their dominance on the boards themselves wasn’t already enough, the Crusaders would then routinely turn those opportunities in second-chance buckets, such as the case when Lancaster Catholic 6’3 senior forward, Ross Conway, snared an offensive board and followed it up with a bunny inside, upping Catholic’s impressive early lead to 11-3 just past the midway point of the first.
However, even when it seemed like Catholic would be able to get out of dodge relatively pain-free on Wednesday night, the Vikes simply reeled them back in. Case in point, an offensive board and stick-back from Northern Lebanon this time around thanks to 6’0 senior forward, Ian Herman, cutting the Crusaders’ lead down to a small handful at 11-7 with 2:30 left in the opening frame, only to then witness Lancaster Catholic 5’10 junior guard, Mason Moore, go on his own personal 4-0 run in the ensuing aftermath, helping Catholic close the quarter with 17-9 lead.
In the second quarter, Catholic only continued where they had left off in the first. In fact, while already keeping Northern Lebanon at arms’ length up until that point, Conway only continued to exacerbate the Vikings’ deficit by showing off his game by stretching the floor and coming up all net on a triple at the conclusion of a wonderful out-of-timeout set, giving Catholic their largest lead of the evening up until that point at 24-13 with 5:20 left to go before the break. Interestingly enough, 11 points was exactly where the difference remained over the final five minutes and change of the opening half as Lancaster Catholic and Northern Lebanon retired to their respective locker rooms for intermission with the Crusaders’ lead holding firm, 28-17.
By this point, it became rather apparent that Northern Lebanon needed to step up to the plate immediately if they had any sort of aspirations of knocking off such a formidable foe while also putting what was a frustrating first half behind them. Well, fortunately as far as the home fans were concerned, a mounting Vikings’ charge seemed imminent in the opening stages of the second half. For that, consider a magnificent Owen Treadway to Nate Shirk layup in transition which cut the Catholic lead back inside single figures at 30-21. However, the Vikings then had to feel as if they had been lulled into a false sense of security considering that Lancaster Catholic stalwart, 6’0 senior bruising point guard Devin Atkinson, came right down the floor and promptly fired in a key trifecta, dashing the Northern Lebanon momentum. In fact, that would end up becoming a prevailing theme as the night wound down as well.
To their credit though, Northern Lebanon only continued to keep pushing in terms of trying to overtake the Lancaster Catholic lead which had held firm since the ball was first tipped off.
Yes, while the Crusaders had largely been able to keep Vikings at bay for much of the night, the mounting swell of Northern Lebanon energy was simply too large to overlook at moments in the second half on Wednesday. In many ways, it should’ve come as no surprise whatsoever to see that the Vikings’ comeback was helped ignited by 5’6 junior sniper, Peyton Wolfe, who had largely been kept in check throughout much of the game up until that point, as Wolfe’s pull-up trey sliced Catholic’s lead back down to a half dozen at 33-27 with 4:30 still left in the third. But they weren’t finished there. In fact, the Northern Lebanon surge only continued onward and upward seeing as how a Simon Grimes’ hoop plus the harm had suddenly dwindled Catholic’s once monstrous lead down to just a pair at 33-31. But just as he had done just moments earlier, Devin Atkinson was on the scene to squash any sort of Northern Lebanon mojo.
While he is an absolute matchup nightmare, particularly as it relates to the world of L-L Section Four hoops, a point guard the likes of Devin Atkinson is undoubtedly on the very short list of most valuable players in the entire L-L League this season. And yes, while his skills aside largely speak for themselves, his mental fortitude appears to be always be right on par as well, especially when taking Wednesday into account.
Now, with Northern Lebanon being right on the precipice of taking their first lead of the evening, Atkinson came right down the floor and promptly sunk two back-to-back, cold-blooded triples right in succession, suddenly ballooning Catholic’s lead back up to eight at 39-31 in the blink of an eye. In all, Atkinson was simply a force to be reckoned with all game long, pouring in a game-high 23-point performance to pace the Crusaders’ effort. So, with Atkinson already having done the brunt of the leg-work, his fellow Crusaders were just as quickly able to reap the benefits on their captain’s efforts as a Mason Moore bucket at the tin later pushed Catholic’s lead back up to a dozen at 45-33 before the third quarter eventually came to a close with the Crusaders out in front, 45-35.
Think the brief respite in between quarters did anything to quell the Lancaster Catholic momentum? Not a chance.
As if to be right on cue, Atkinson fired in yet another 3-ball on the Crusaders’ opening possession of the final frame, proving once and for all that a Northern Lebanon comeback bid would have to get started pronto.
Well, thanks to a trademark 3-ball peppered in by Wolfe, followed by a sweet Simon Grimes dish to Josh Clemmer bucket from point-blank range, the Vikings had immediately sliced the Crusaders’ lead back down to five at 48-43. From there though, Clemmer only stayed on the attack as yet another bucket by the Vikings’ 6’0 senior forward made things seems much more precarious for Lancaster Catholic with their lead now chopped down to a very modest, 48-45, with 3:45 left to play.
Yet again however, a Lancaster Catholic 3-ball would spell doom for the hosts. Ironically, while it was not Devin Atkinson this time around, it would happen to be his fellow partner in crime, Ross Conway.
With the Crusaders’ still nursing a rather flimsy 51-47 cushion heading into the final two minutes, a back-breaking triple dialed by Conway helped dash any sort of Northern Lebanon aspirations of coming up victorious in this key divisional matchup as the Crusaders’ stretch forward pushed the visitors’ lead back up to a much more comfortable seven-point buffer, 54-47.
And while Northern Lebanon would try to rally the troops and make one last-ditch attempt at going out in front once and for all, best evidenced by yet another Peyton Wolfe triple, good for three more en route to his team-high 13-point night which had cut the Catholic lead back down to six at 58-52, that would prove to be all the closer the Vikings would get for the remainder of the evening as Lancaster Catholic was able to have a happy bus ride back home to Lancaster following their crucial divisional road win in the nether regions of Lebanon County, 61-52.
NEXT UP: By now, it’s becoming rather obvious that L-L Section Four will be a mad dash to finish line, whatever that may end up looking like this season, given that nearly everyone seems to have an equal opportunity at claiming supremacy this year. For Lancaster Catholic, with their key win on Wednesday night already in tow to help get them out to a 2-0 league start, the Crusaders return home on Friday night for yet another critical showdown, this time against a formidable Octorara team. Don’t forget, the Braves rolled into Lancaster last year and stole one on the Crusaders’ home floor, so motivation likely won’t be in short supply for the Crusaders as if it wasn’t already.
On the other side of the coin, Northern Lebanon must right the ship and fast considering that they now travel to Myerstown on Tuesday night to tangle with rival ELCO against a Raiders squad that has surely turned some heads already in this young season given much they were decimated thanks to the Graduation 2020. Needless to say, a Vikings’ win on Tuesday night would prove monstrous in terms of determining how the remainder of the Section Four campaign will end up playing itself out given that the Vikings find themselves sitting in third currently with a 1-1 league mark.
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