Nearly 16 years ago, a heartbroken high school senior pulled himself from the hardwood court and regained his composure.
Northeastern had just lost its chance at a district championship, but Travis Wagman proclaimed: "They're going to be talking about this game for a long time."
Three 1,000-point scorers on one side. Two future high school head coaches on the other.
Northeastern and York Catholic met in late February of 1999 at York County Tech. A state playoff berth hung in the balance of their District 3 Class AA quarterfinal, which also tugged emotionally at Wagman and York Catholic's Joe Stein.
They knew of each other through their fathers, Gerry Stein and Knute "Luck" Wagman, who worked together at Sheffer Beer Distributing Co. before their deaths. Joe's loss had been more recent, and that February marked the two-year anniversary he lost his father.
The sons met at events such as company picnics before gradually meeting as rivals on the basketball court. That final time came at Tech, as they looked to each other throughout York Catholic's eventual 55-53 win.
"It's the best game I've ever played," Wagman said that night after a 20-point performance. "It's heartbreaking."
These days, both have young families. Wagman is the finance director of a Lexus dealership in Owings Mills, Md., but still resides in Regents Glen. Stein works for an engineering firm in Lancaster and lives in York. His York Catholic contingent can reflect on the second-to-last district title in the program's storied history. They went on to beat Annville-Cleona in the old Hersheypark Arena for one of the Fighting Irish's 11 championships.
Northeastern still has no such title, which leaves Wagman and his friends to talk about what could have been. He still thinks the Bobcats were better than the 17-10 record that concluded with a consolation-round loss to the now-defunct Reading Central Catholic. After all, that Northeastern team possessed three 1,000-point career scorers. Two of which — Dustin Sweitzer and Justin Shelley — played critical roles against the Irish.
"If we would have won that, we definitely would have won," said Sweitzer, now the Bobcats freshman coach. "And we might have won states, to be honest with you. That's how talented I think we were."
But that York Catholic team just always seemed to be in the way.
It included current YAIAA coaches Ryan Luckman, coincidentally a first-year Irish coach, and Kevin Schieler, now at Central York.
At the beginning of the 1998-99 campaign, York Catholic rallied by the Bobcats to win its season-opening tipoff tournament. The crowd only grew for their rematch in front of a packed gymnasium.
"It was such a thrill to play in those games," Stein said. "I went on to (Wilkes) college and had few experiences that could compare to that game."
The environment brought out the best in Wagman, a 6-foot-3 guard who typically played a supporting role to Sweitzer's lead.
"I hated their full-court, 1-3-1 defense," Sweitzer said. "To be honest, that was one of my worst games of my career. Luckily, Travis was lights out that night. The kid couldn't miss."
In fact, Wagman missed just one of his seven 3-point attempts.
Stuck in an early 18-9 deficit, Wagman caught fire to ignite the Bobcats' comeback. The see-saw affair culminated with a 53-all tie and Northeastern trying to hold for the last shot, to be taken by Wagman. He had just tied it on a 3, but York Catholic's Dave Robertson spoiled any more heroics — drawing a loose-ball foul, hitting the go-ahead free throws and finally rejoicing a York Catholic steal to clinch it.
Afterward, Wagman hit the floor in disappointment. He covered up in a fetal position under the basket, shielding himself from the pandemonium. A Northeastern cheerleader broke away from her group near the free-throw line and toward Wagman.
She shouted over him and in the direction of a photographer. Wagman said he vividly remembers it being because of his precarious position.
"I remember the ball was thrown away with 12 seconds left," Wagman said. "I know it was thrown at my feet. That could have been the game-winner. That's why it was disheartening to me. I scored all of those points ..."
Faded memories shine only when he or Sweitzer meet up with their old teammates. Sometimes it's when they get together to watch a basketball game or boxing match. Or those random times Wagman runs into Stein, that 6-foot-5 center who occupied the back end of the 1-3-1 defense despised by Sweitzer. Wagman and Stein see each other around York with their families and send messages on Facebook.
Nearly 16 years later, the young Wagman was in fact right. They are still talking about this game.
Contact Matt Goul at 771-2045.
Sixteen years later, here's what some of the participants had to say about the game:
Joe Stein, York Catholic
"It was actually a real emotional game. Of course, senior year every game is special. We had a great season. I think we just lost counties to York High."
Travis Wagman, Northeastern
"Fifteen years ago. Phew. I was unconscious for that game. I know that for a fact. It seemed like everything I put up dropped."
Dustin Sweitzer, Northeastern
"The crowd was just electrifying that night. I could say I've watched that game two or three times since maybe 10 years ago when we'd get together. It was just crazy. Every point you scored in the last five minutes was an eruption."
Kevin Schieler, York Catholic
"As soon as he (Wagman) crossed halfcourt, he was in range. He just lit it up."
Schieler on where the game ranked
"Not as insane as the two York High games that year. We had a tight game at York High and a tight game at Gettysburg in the league championship, but it (Northeastern game) was the best game we had in that district run. Our semifinal and final were blowouts."
Ryan Luckman, York Catholic
"They were dominating for three quarters, and then I know (Jeff) Lau and (Dave) Roberston hit a couple of jump shots. All of a sudden they (Northeastern) went cold from 3, and all of a sudden they had to foul us, and we hit our free throws. I'm not sure how we pulled it out. When we played them in the first game, they had the lead for the longest time. They were a bad matchup for us."
Luckman on the Bobcats matchup
"They had guys that score inside and outside. They shot the 3 really well, plus they played a ton of zone defenses. (Coach Jon) Eyster would play four or five different zones. One time, you would come down against a 1-3-1. Next time, you'd come down against 3-2. Next time, a 1-2-2 or 2-1-2. You had no idea what was going on right away and couldn't get in a rhythm."
Stein on the coaching careers of Luckman and Schieler
"Maybe not so much Kevin. He was an intelligent player, but I wasn't close enough to know. Ryan, having been in my grade and following him a bit, I had a sense he would be back in the fold of things. We had a great coaching mentor in Mike Keesey. Anyone who goes through that program enjoys and loves the game of basketball."
- Comments compiled by Matt Goul and Steve Navaroli