With its size, Hempfield was already a tough opponent for Central York to open the District 3 Class AAAA girls' basketball tournament for the first time in several years.
To make matters worse, the eighth-seeded Panthers had to take the floor without athletic senior Kelsey Shifflett, who has been sick the past couple of days.
Yet Central hung with the Black Knights, and after a solid defensive effort in the second quarter, the Panthers trailed by only two points at halftime.
However, just 17 seconds into the third quarter, sophomore Julianna Clark launched a 3-pointer from beyond 20-foot range for three of her game-high 22 points, and No. 9 Hempfield advanced to the second round courtesy of a 52-40 win.
"They have other threats too. She was the one that was hot tonight," Panthers coach Scott Wisner said. "We told them to be aware of her in transition and of course we came out and she got that first one. That happens in high school basketball."
The eighth-seeded Panthers saw a stellar season close with an 18-6 record, but a bright future remains as only Shifflett and Kelsey Wisner graduate from this season's squad.
"We have two seniors, but do have a lot of youth coming back, people that gained a lot of valuable experience this year, so we will have to build on that and have room to grow," Scott Wisner said.
Dealing with 6-foot-2 senior Alecia Rohrer (15 points) was tough enough, yet Central held the Knights to only four points in the second quarter and went to the locker room down 20-18 after a Kelsey Wisner triple.
But the momentum didn't last past the break when Clark launched her dagger. Although Kelsey Wisner answered with a bucket, Clark followed with another one from long range.
Rohrer added a layup, Julia Strothers knocked down a 3 off a feed from Clark, then Clark followed a Panthers' turnover with an underhanded scoop that kissed high off the glass, and suddenly the Knights were leading 33-20.
"I thought we did a pretty good job on Rohrer. She got some points at the end, but I thought we handled her pretty well considering the size disadvantage," Scott Wisner said. "Obviously (Clark) just knocked down a bunch of shots early on. They just deserved to win tonight."
Missed shots plagued Central's comeback attempts; however, freshman Nikson Valencik, who led her team with 16 points and nine rebounds, scored on consecutive possessions, cutting Hempfield's lead to 46-40. But the Knights hit 6-of-7 from the foul line to end the game and set up Friday's matchup with top-seeded Palmyra at 8 p.m. at Warwick.
"They hit two or three to start the second half to extend the lead right away," coach Wisner said. "We hit a couple at the end to cut it to six. I thought we had a chance, but we had to take some chances defensively, and they converted."
Kelsey Wisner finished with 10 points in the final game of her high school career. But after an emotional embrace with her father, Wisner smiled at the thought of how the Panthers came together and accomplished their goals of reaching the YAIAA and district playoffs.
"This freshman and sophomore group stepped up so much for us," she said. "The last two years we didn't have the greatest record. This year we decided it was time to turn it around — 'Let's make a statement' — and I think we did. Kudos to them, they developed faster than any of us could think they could."
Thomas 0 0-1 0, Nixdorf 0 0-0 0, Julianna Clark 9 0-1 22, Rhoads 1 4-4 6, Williams 0 0-0 0, Dimminick 0 0-0 0, Strothers 3 2-2 9, Morant 0 0-0 0, Givler 0 0-0 0, Preston 0 0-2 0, Alecia Rohrer 7 1-2 15.
Totals — 20 7-12 52.
CENTRAL YORK (40)
Kelsey Wisner 3 2-2 10, Nikson Valencik 8 0-0 16, Saxton 3 0-0 6, Williams 0 3-6 3, Sepic 1 0-0 3, Shellenberger 1 0-0 2.
Totals — 16 5-8 40.
3-point goals — Hemp 5 (Clark 4, Strothers), CY 3 (Wisner 2, Sepic).