Wednesday night's District 3 Class AAAA first-round matchup between No. 6 Central York and No. 11 Exeter Township almost ended in an upset.
But the Panthers were able to hold off the surging Eagles to claim a 63-47 victory, setting up a YAIAA championship game rematch with No. 3 William Penn in Saturday's quarterfinals.
"It's just fantastic that we're able to go to Hershey two years in a row," Central York head coach Kevin Schieler said. "We've now qualified for states, so we're going to play in the state tournament two years in a row, and that's great for our program, and I think it's a huge attribute to last year's seniors, this year's seniors, and the seniors in the future that we can build here."
The first quarter saw an even-sided affair unfold. Central got out to a quick five-point lead, but the Eagles kept the score to a modest 16-12 in favor of Central.
But as the second quarter kicked off, it seemed like a blowout was in store for the home crowd. The Panthers came out of the break firing on all cylinders, holding Exeter to a mere five points in the quarter, giving the Panthers a 29-17 lead at half.
At the start of the third quarter it seemed like Central was going to seal the deal, as it led 41-21 with 3:45 left in the quarter. However, Exeter managed to go on a 15-point run that lasted 1 1/2 minutes into the final quarter, with the score at 44-36.
Exeter closed the deficit to five points with 2:45 remaining in the game.
During this time, Central's big three — Sam Saxton, Jared Wagner and Charlie Gingrich — were slumping.
But with 50 seconds remaining, Wagner blocked a shot and took the ball down to the other end, making the layup while picking up the foul, giving Central a 3-point play and 59-47 lead to put the Eagles down for good. Wagner finished the game with a team-high 19 points.
"I wish we didn't turn the ball over so much," Schieler said. "I really think that's what got them easy buckets and got them fired up, but I think the second quarter was crucial for our confidence not just on the defensive end but to get easy buckets on the offensive end, too."
Exeter head coach Kevin Boettlin was proud of his team's effort.
"It's very hard (to defend against Central)," Boettlin said. "They execute — probably one of the best teams we've gone against all year as far as execution goes. They work the ball very well, the backdoor very well — there aren't very many mistakes happening on their end."
Now Central has its sights set on avenging its loss to William Penn in the YAIAA championship game, and the players and coaches know what they're getting into to. The two teams meet at 10 a.m. Saturday at Giant Center.
"We saw what happened Friday night," Schieler said. "They're a very good team, and if we don't play our very best then they're going to win. We have to be ready to play; we have to able to slow them down, and we have to be a heck of a lot more efficient on the offensive end."
Central York (63)
Marino 0 0-0 0, Falci 1 0-0 3, Shaffer 2 0-0 4, Harter 0 0-0 0, Luckenbaugh 2 1-1 5, Sam Saxton 4 2-2 11, Jared Wagner 6 6-7 19, Markey 3 2-2 9, Charlie Gingrich 4 4-4 12.
Totals — 22 16-15 63
Exeter Township (47)
Perkings 0 0-0 0, Arndt 2 0-0 4, Garcia 2 0-0 6, Trojanowski 6 1-4 15, Churchill 3 0-0 6, Keim 5 0-1 10, Schappell 0 0-0 0, O'Reilly 0 0-0 0, Dobraniecki 0 0-0 0, Menet 3 0-0 6.
Totals — 21 1-5 47
Central York15141122—63Exeter 1251416—47
3-point goals — CY 4 (Falci, Saxton, Wagner, Markey). Ex 4 (Garcia 2, Trojanowski 2).