Even as the Eastern York boys traded buckets and kept up with state powerhouse Chester, all the end-to-end action was gradually taking its toll.
The Golden Knights simply couldn't keep up for all four quarters Friday, in an 88-77 loss to the Clippers in the Primetime Shootout at Plymouth Whitemarsh High School.
Eastern led at halftime and competed with Chester, ranked the No. 1 Class AAAA team in the state by the Patriot-News, right up until the final whistle. But the Golden Knights (14-3) simply ran out of gas.
"They were just bringing kids in and in (off the bench)," Eastern York point guard Austin Tillotson said. "It kind of wears you down."
The loss was Eastern's third in 13 days, and ended a brutal stretch that included defeats to state contenders Scranton and Archbishop Carroll.
Then again, the Golden Knights coaches knew this might happen. They sought out these contests, seeking out big-game experience over a spotless record.
"We talked about how we could have scheduled other games and maybe been undefeated and higher in the rankings," said Eastern coach Larry Fisher, whose team won its first 31 games last season en route to the PIAA Class AAA semifinals. "We know and understand there's a higher purpose than the rankings."
Of their three high-profile opponents, Chester (14-1) might have been the most daunting. The Clippers started four players 6-foot-3 or taller, and kept a constant rotation of bodies coming off the bench. In all, Chester played 11 players Friday.
Eastern, on the other hand, played six.
So while the Clippers could bombard the Golden Knights with presses and fast breaks and still be fresh, Eastern wasn't quite so lucky.
"We were wearing down, no doubt about it," Fisher said. "We were in a situation where we had to call timeouts to give guys a breather."
Still, Eastern managed to produced some of its best basketball of the season during the first three quarters.
The Golden Knights even took a 44-39 lead into halftime, thanks mostly to the exploits of their senior duo, Austin Tillotson and Andrew Nicholas. The pair combined for 34 points in the first half.
Tillotson scored 15 in the first quarter alone, and seems to be nearing full strength after a right wrist fracture that sidelined him early in the season.
"I didn't think it was going to feel as good as it did," said Tillotson, who finished with 25 points. "It felt so much better."
Nicholas added 26 points and 11 rebounds. Forward Lamon Church scored a game-high 27 for Chester, while senior guard Maurice Nelson poured in 23.
Nelson hit two 3-pointers during the Clippers decisive 10-0 run in the third quarter. That sprint put Chester up, 63-55.
And while Eastern never quite went away, it never mounted a serious challenge in the final quarter.
Still, the performance seemed to represent progress for a Golden Knights team looking to repeat last year's postseason success.
"I think we showed a lot," Tillotson said. "We wanted to show everyone that we could compete."
EASTERN YORK (77)
Smith 2 2-2 7, Reichard 0 2-2 2, Stoutzenberger 0 0-0 0, Austin Tillotson 11 1-2 25, Bryton Abel 5 4-6 17, Andrew Nicholas 8 7-10 26. Totals 26 16-22 77.
K. Robinson 2 0-0 4, Darius Robinson 4 0-0 10, Maurice Nelson 6 6-6 23, Butler 0 1-2 1, Watkins 0 0-0 0, Jefferson 1 0-1 2, Lamon Church 11 5-7 27, Walker 1 0-0 2, Griffin 3 1-2 7, Wright 3 2-5 8, Granberry 2 0-0 4. Totals 33 15-23 88.
Eastern York 19 25 18 15 -- 77
Chester 20 19 29 20 -- 88
3-point goals -- Eastern York 9 (Nicholas 3, Abel 3, Tillotson 2, Smith ); Chester 7 (Nelson 5, D. Robinson 2 ).