COLONIAL PARK >> Take away the first quarter of Friday night's boys basketball game, and Shippensburg would've won by a six-point margin.
"Can we magically do that?" Greyhound coach Ray Staver asked.
Unfortunately for the Hounds, they can't. Although Shippensburg came back from a huge first-quarter deficit and made a run at Central Dauphin East, the Panthers held Ship at bay for a 61-49 victory in a District 3 Class AAAA play-in game.
The Panthers (14-9) advance to face No. 2-seeded Cedar Cliff, which has beaten both Ship and CDE in the last eight days. The Greyhounds finish the season with a 16-8 record.
"Credit to our kids for coming back," Staver said. "They busted their butts. We took two timeouts in the first quarter; maybe I should've taken three. I really don't know."
Shippensburg scored the first bucket of the game, but the Panthers answered with a seven-point run until the Hounds broke the silence. CD East's response this time was even better, though; the Panthers scored 17 unanswered points, including 10 straight by Dwight Whitlock. East finished the quarter going 9 of 11 from the field, and Ship faced a 24-6 deficit after the first buzzer.
"We haven't shot the ball all that well for the last couple of weeks," East coach Marty Hasenfuss said. "It was nice to see us share the ball and get some good shots and to shoot as well as we did. Because we scored early, we were able to press them a little bit and allowed us to turn them over."
Although East did put on a clinic in the first frame, there was a clear lack of energy on the Greyhound side.
"I've never been in a gym in my life that was so quiet for a playoff game," Staver said. "We told our kids that they'd have to make their own energy and excitement. We didn't, and they did. For all of our kids, it was their first time ever in a playoff game, and we were extremely tentative."
Ship guard Zaen Miller said, "The saying goes, you have to walk before you can run, but our intensity just wasn't there to start off. We got a little bit of a spark in the second quarter, and if we'd had that from the start, I think it would've helped."
The Greyhounds played slightly better in the second quarter, but it really wasn't until the third period that they seemed to get a sense of urgency.
Ship forced a quick turnover and got a putback from Bryce Hastings, before the Panthers committed another miscue and Miller took advantage by banging in a 3-pointer. CD East was held to just five points in the frame, and Ship reeled off the last six points to pull it to 40-27 heading into the final quarter.
"At halftime, we knew we had to play hell-bent for leather," Staver said. "First thing is you have to get stops, and the first few possessions of the second half, we did. Then, of course, you have to score on the offensive end, which we did that, too."
Miller was an especially big spark for the Hounds in the third quarter, both offensively and defensively. In addition to his trifecta, he added three rebounds, an assist, a steal and two deflections in the period.
"We definitely needed an energy boost, and I normally try to come out and do it on the defensive end," Miller said. "Getting that three was big, too. At halftime, I told the guys we needed to bring all the energy we had and make a run at this. I really tried to be that spark."
Ship kept up the heat in the fourth quarter and pulled the deficit to 11 or fewer on five occasions. It never got to single digits, though.
"We were able to get it back to a workable margin," Staver said. "But every time we seemed to get it to 10 or 11, they'd get a turnover and an easy bucket."
Hasenfuss said, "They extended their 1-3-1 a little bit in the three-quarter court, and they did get some turnovers there from us. I knew they would try something to see if they could make a run, and it was a good move on Ray's part to try to increase the tempo. They're well coached; it was just one of those cases where they just didn't shoot the ball well in the first half."
NOTES >> With three minutes left in the fourth quarter, Whitlock scored a layup to surpass the 1,000-point mark for his career; he needed 19 points coming into the game, and finished with 21 ... Hastings led Ship's scoring with 18 points, and Wade Mills had 13 points and eight rebounds.
Nick Jacoby 1 0-0 2, Wade Mills 6 1-2 13, Zaen Miller 2 0-0 5, Teagan Staver 0 2-2 2, Bryce Hastings 8 0-0 18, Shuntan Hickman 2 0-0 5, Cody Gustafson 0 0-0 0, Emmitt Geiger 1 2-2 4, Derek Lovett 0 0-0 0.
Totals — 20 5-6 49
CD EAST (61)
Quintin Smith 2 1-5 5, Dwight Whitlock 8 4-5 22, Joe Lemelle 3 0-0 6, Justin Henry 1 0-2 2, Derrick Biney 3 6-10 14, Tommy Beattie 2 0-0 6, Jordan Gillis 1 0-0 2, Travis Crummy 1 0-0 2, Jesse White 0 2-2 2, Isaiah Salmon 0 0-0 0.
Totals — 21 13-24 61
3-point goals — Ship 4 (Hastings 2, Miller, Hickman), CDE 6 (Whitlock 2, Biney 2, Beattie 2).