HERSHEY >> Since William Penn's state final run in 2009, Troy Sowers makes a point to include the district championship game in his team's schedule before the season.
The Bearcats coach has now had accurate season calendars for five of the last seven seasons.
Following William Penn's 60-55 win Tuesday night against Cedar Cliff, Sowers' voice blasted from a Giant Center locker room into the hallway like subwoofers from a car. William Penn will defend its District 3 Class AAAA title Saturday in a rematch against Cedar Crest, a 58-49 winner against Reading.
"When guys love each other on this team as much as they do, you can pull out close games like this," Sowers said.
The third-seeded Bearcats (24-4) used a Trey Shifflett basket as time expired to clinch their return to the district final. There might not have been a more fitting player to cap it. Shifflett took a relay pass from Brandon Smallwood as Cedar Cliff (24-3) desperately tried to extend the game.
Shifflett will make his third straight trip to the Saturday final. As a freshman, he admitted his surprise when receiving the team's season-long itinerary.
It included practice for the district final.
"The first day I saw it, I said, 'Coach, we're not even here yet.' He said we plan on making it," Shifflett recalled.
As a freshman, Shifflett said, he didn't know what he was getting into. He was star struck by the first run, which culminated in an overtime loss to Harrisburg. Last year, Shifflett and his teammates reeled off a surprising run as the eighth seed and beat Cedar Crest, 54-52, in the final.
"Guys buy into the concept that we expect to be here," Sowers said. "It's not easy. We stay humble all the way and try to win the next 32-minute games once the playoffs start."
Second-seeded Cedar Cliff was enough to keep anyone from looking ahead a few more days on that calendar. The Colts entered as the Mid-Penn tournament champions and boasted a heady senior point guard in Tyler Hoagland, who again proved troublesome.
Three days after Hoagland led the Colts' rally past Northeastern in the quarterfinals, he scored a game-high 23 points against the Bearcats. Even after Jahaire Wilson denied him on a block in the closing moments, Hoagland calmly knocked down a 3-pointer with 13 seconds left, cutting the Bearcats' lead to 56-53.
But William Penn never trailed, and Cedar Cliff never got closer than three in the second half.
"If they beat us, let them beat us from the 3," Shifflett said.
Hoagland wasn't without a rival at point guard.
Junior Montrel Morgan steered William Penn's early charge and finished with a team-high 16 points. In the fourth, with the Colts closing in, Morgan's repeated trips to the free-throw line buoyed the Bearcats.
Like Shifflett and others, Morgan is returning to the district final. The only difference is he did it last year at the Class A level, leading York-based New Hope Academy.
"I did this last year, but I'm going again even on a bigger stage," Morgan said. "It feels great."
William Penn built a 33-18 lead by halftime but stalled in the third quarter. Kristopher Johnson's six points were all the Bearcats could muster in the third.
"It's tough to get behind by 15 points and come the whole way back," Cedar Cliff coach Jim Rowe said.
Before the game, Rowe told his assistants they needed this game to be played at a higher tempo.
"This is the type of game we need to score 60 to win," he said. "It's going to be tough to score in the 50s and beat a York High team. They're going to get points because they're so athletic."
Wilson and Brandon Smallwood added an interior advantage to go with that athleticism. The two combined for 25 rebounds and led of William Penn's 42-33 edge on the boards. Smallwood grabbed 11 of them.
Wilson came off the bench for 16 rebounds and seven blocks to go with 14 points.
"They're big for us," Shifflett said. "If we didn't have them, we'd have trouble."
Or maybe their plans would have been shifted to a consolation game to be played elsewhere.
Shifflett said he went to Hersheypark last summer, prompting the first reminder of where he wanted to be in late February. He could see Giant Center from the neighboring theme park.
"Just looking at it, 'Wow, can't wait to get back here next year.'"
FAN BUS TO HERSHEY >> William Penn will have a bus for fans wanting to attend the district final, scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday in Hershey. Athletic director Joe Chiodi said the bus ride will cost $6 per person. Sign up and pay from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Friday at the William Penn athletic office.
Contact Matt Goul at 771-2045.
WILLIAM PENN (60)
Montrel Morgan 4 6-10 16, Shifflett 3 1-2 7, Shaw 0 0-0 0, Johnson 4 0-2 8, Smallwood 3 2-3 8, Jahaire Wilson 7 0-2 14, Boxley 1 2-3 4, Casiano 1 0-0 3.
Totals — 23 11-22 60.
CEDAR CLIFF (55)
Tyler Hoagland 10 0-0 23, Ford 2 3-3 7, Shenk 3 3-3 9, Deaner 2 0-0 4, Shultz 0 0-0 0, Lebo 1 1-2 3, Mansfield 2 5-6 9, Vasiloff 0 0-0 0, LaFaver 0 0-0 0.
Totals — 20 12-14 55.
William Penn1518621—60Cedar Cliff1261621—55
3-point goals — WP 3 (Morgan 2, Casiano), CC 3 (Hoagland 3).