HERSHEY -- J.P. McCaskey coach Steve "Bird" Powell knew his team lost. Still...

"We're the best team (in District 3)," Powell said.

He tried to explain, why -- after William Penn defeated McCaskey, 81-76, in a District 3 Class AAAA semifinal -- he had the best team.

He didn't say it maliciously. He didn't want to blame the officiating, but his team struggled to adjust to the quick whistles Tuesday.

"You know it was the officiating," Powell said when questioned point-blank by reporters.

He knew it sounded bad. He knew people would talk.

"Ah that's 'Bird,' that's coach," Powell said about the reaction he would receive after issuing his best team proclamation. "The fact is you guys know."

In a tightly called game, officials whistled McCaskey for 27 of the 48 fouls. Officials issued a pair of technicals to McCaskey and one to William Penn. Two McCaskey starters fouled out, and a third (Devonne Pinkard) played almost the entire fourth quarter with four fouls.

The game changed permanently when play dissolved into a scrum on a William Penn drive to the paint just 2:19 into the game. Teammates had to hold each other back. After that, the Mid-Penn officiating crew didn't mess around. Contact that would normally fly ended with a tweet of the whistle.

"It's tough for young men to understand that," Powell said. "It's tough when (the players) say, 'Wait a minute, how do we play this game? How do we defend? And how do we run our offense?'"

Powell's eyes might have deceived him, though. He might have had the best talent. He might have had the best athletes. But the best team?

A team isn't just defined by which players have the best moves or shot. If that was the case, they'd award district titles at Penn Park, not Giant Center.

The title of best team in Tuesday's semifinal goes to the Bearcats.

They adjusted to the tight officiating. Four starters finished with four fouls (Derek Wilson was the only one to finish with just three fouls.)

They had the better game plan. They sagged off on defense, clogged up the lane and let McCaskey chuck as many 3-pointers as its players could hoist. William Penn coach Troy Sowers reasoned after the game, even if McCaskey sank an eye-popping number of treys William Penn forced them to abandon one of their strengths.

So even though McCaskey had a height advantage -- going (6-6, 6-3, 6-2) -- it became a jump-shooting team, chucking 29 3-point attempts. The Tornados sank only eight.

William Penn’s Ramel Stephens fends off McCaskey’s Keyon Cowan during the District 3 Class AAAA semifinal at the Giant Center in Hershey
William Penn's Ramel Stephens fends off McCaskey's Keyon Cowan during the District 3 Class AAAA semifinal at the Giant Center in Hershey Tuesday, February 26, 2013. William Penn won 81-76 advancing to the final. DAILY RECORD/SUNDAY NEWS - KATE PENN (KATE PENN)

And William Penn played to its advantage. It had the better half-court offense, the better half-court defense and the more-disciplined team. That was evident as Tornados players pleaded their innocence again and again in the face of officials. That was evident when McCaskey walked off the floor, one player shirtless and another ripping off his jersey.

Some might call it grit, but it takes a special player to disregard all the noise around him and keep hitting the boards when he's outweighed and overmatched.

Sophomore Jahaire Wilson admitted he felt scared at the start of the game, by the second quarter all that anxiety disappeared. He looked at the William Penn players that have been here before -- seniors Derek Wilson (24 points) and Tavon Parker (23 points) -- and responded with a shut-up-and-play mentality.

"We're here to play basketball," Parker said. "You need mental toughness. Everybody trash talks, but you have to block it out and concentrate on the job at hand, which is winning a basketball game."

Adjust, execute a game plan, win the game: Isn't that what the best teams do?

They might not attract the most Division I coaches, they might not look as good in the weight room, but William Penn was the better team Tuesday.
Jim Seip is a sports writer for the York Daily Record/Sunday News. Follow him @jimseip or e-mail him at jseip@ydr.com.