HERSHEY >> It was only fitting that third-seeded William Penn and top-seeded Cedar Crest met for Saturday's District 3 Class AAAA boys' basketball championship.
While William Penn spent February marching to another YAIAA Division I championship and its third YAIAA tourney title in four years, Cedar Crest captured the Lancaster-Lebanon Section 1 crown and its second straight league playoff championship.
Add to that the historical angle. The Bearcats and Cedar Crest met in last year's Class AAAA final, where William Penn rallied from 14 down late in the third quarter to emerge with a two-point win.
The destinies of the two teams collided once again on the court at Hershey's Giant Center and it was the Bearcats repeating as champions with a 56-53 win.
"This is a big accomplishment for our team," William Penn junior guard Trey Shifflett said. "I've wanted to play on (the Giant Center) floor since I was a kid. To win two championships here on it is something special."
This was the fifth district championship appearance in seven years and the third title in five seasons for William Penn. The Bearcats won in 2011. No team had repeated as Class AAAA champs since Harrisburg in 2006 and 2007.
William Penn (25-4) has won 12 straight since last losing by 11 points at Central York on Jan. 23. The Bearcats only other loss within District 3 came back in early December by 10 points to Reading.
The Bearcats went ahead to stay with 3:35 remaining on a 3-pointer by the 5-foot-11 Shifflett. That keyed an 8-0 run by William Penn.
"That was big for us," William Penn junior guard Kristopher Johnson said. "We know the game is played in runs and spurts. The team that can get the most runs and stops will be successful."
Cedar Crest (26-3) closed to within a point at 54-53 with 30 seconds left on a 3-pointer from junior guard Evan Horn. Johnson then sank a free throw with 24 seconds left to put William Penn up by a basket. At the other end of the floor, the 6-foot-6 Johnson took a charge with 12.3 seconds left when Horn drove to the rim and picked up his fifth foul.
"We knew they were in a rush and needed points fast," Johnson said. "We stress help defense and I just slid over and took the charge."
After a timeout by the Bearcats, Shifflett was fouled with four seconds left and sank the first of two free throws. Cedar Crest's last-gasp heave missed as the final horn sounded.
"I just wanted to sink one in to get the game to three (points)," Shifflett said. "I've been in situations like that since I was a freshman. I'm used to it."
Cedar Crest was ahead by as many as seven in the first quarter and 11 in the second quarter as the Bearcats shot 5-of-16 from the field and committed nine turnovers.
"We had a rough first half, but we came out and regrouped in the second half," Johnson said. "We showed how we are capable of playing.
"We stress 32 minutes a game, and it is never over until it is over. We knew it was going to take a maximum effort on defense, and we came out and stepped it up big time."
Cedar Crest held a lead and ran a four corners, delay-type offense for a large portion of the first half.
"I understand why they did that," William Penn coach Troy Sowers said. "They were short-handed and it stretched the game out. I would have done the same thing if I was in that situation."
Cedar Crest suspended three players, including starters 6-7 senior forward Andrew Eberhart and 5-10 senior guard Josh Bucher, for Saturday's game and booted one player from the team after an inappropriate video was recorded and posted to social media after Tuesday's semifinal win against Reading.
"We knew that a team that made it this far is still good even without a few players," Johnson said. "We still had the same game plan and came out with the same mentality no matter what."
The Falcons had won eight straight games coming into Saturday. Their two previous losses this season came in a 10-day span in late January at J.P. McCaskey and at Warwick.
"This is a very good team," Sowers said. "We had four good teams represented here in the semis with Reading and Cedar Cliff."
Since the inception of the Class AAAA classification in 1984, no team has won three consecutive championships. During Carlisle's run of four consecutive state titles in the 1980s, the Thundering Herd reached five consecutive title games (1984-88), but only claimed titles in 1984, 1985 and 1988.
TICKET SALES >> William Penn will play Penncrest, the 10th-place District 1 team, in the PIAA Class AAAA tournament at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Dallastown High School. Tickets will be sold in the William Penn athletic office from 10 a.m. through 4 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday.
William Penn 56, Cedar Crest 53
William Penn (56)
Shaw 1 3-7 5, Smallwood 4 0-0 8, Johnson 3 2-4 8, Montrel Morgan 3 8-8 14, Trey Shifflett 4 1-3 10, Wilson 4 0-0 8, Boxley 0 0-0 0, Casiano 1 0-0 3.
Totals — 20 14-22 56.
Cedar Crest (53)
Frost 2 0-0 4, Nick Miller 5 4-4 14, Garloff 3 2-3 9, Evan Horn 8 2-3 21, Ferreira 2 1-2 5, Bolanos 0 0-0 0, Gonzalez 0 0-0 0, Madsen 0 0-0 0.
Totals — 20 9-12 53.
William Penn6102416—56Cedar Crest1491317—53
3-point goals — WP, 2 (Shifflett, Casiano). CC, 4 (Horn 3, Garloff).