SCRANTON >> Two Abington Heights seniors learned earlier this week of Peter Falci's fight against cancer.
They never met the Central York senior, let alone played against him and the Panthers. The District 2 champion Comets weren't even a Class AAAA school before this season, which for Central ended Saturday at Scranton's Lackawanna College.
"We wanted to do anything to help," Abington Heights senior Clay Basalyga said after the Comets' 47-40 win.
A 6-foot-3 senior guard who helped them pull away in the fourth quarter, Basalyga and fellow captain Tyler Kziasek met Falci before the game. All of Abington Heights' players sported pink socks with "Coaches vs. Cancer" written on them. A handful of players wore white shirts bearing Falci's name.
They were among the last 14 of 400 shirts sold on Wednesday, Central coach Kevin Schieler said.
The Panthers' opponent was joined by the Northeastern boys and York Catholic girls as teams to wear the shirts this weekend to start the PIAA tournament. Falci was diagnosed nine days earlier with cancer and missed Central's last game while learning of his health status in Hershey.
"I'm very happy they were able to do that and support Pete," Schieler said. "It means a lot to the Falci family."
Central players took to social media and used Twitter hashtags of "PlayForPete" and "PrayForPete" leading up to Saturday's PIAA first-round game. The Panthers' emotions carried onto the court, where they traded the lead 10 times in the first quarter against Abington Heights (22-3).
Neither side pulled ahead by more than four points until the final stretch.
"I know they wanted to do their absolute best for Pete," Schieler said. "They did their absolute best for Pete."
Jared Wagner scored a team-high 11 points and fouled out after giving Central a 40-38 lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Panthers (20-10) didn't score again, despite their best efforts.
They held Comets leading scorer and rebounder Tim Toro to just two points and no boards. Standing 6-foot-8, he fouled out while trying to force a jump ball with Central's Sam Saxton.
"Every time we threw something at them, they adjusted nicely," Schieler said.
The closing moments, Schieler said, weren't reflective of the last two years. He's seen his team twice win at least 20 games and secure a league title that hadn't been done at the school in 40 years.
Falci was a part of that, the starting point guard for each of the last two seasons.
He arrived Saturday in a van with family just after his teammates completed their 2 1/2-hour trip to Scranton. Upon arrival, he trekked to the locker room. Within 30 minutes, Falci was introduced as the "sixth starter," following junior Charlie Gingrich during pre-game introductions.
Falci wore No. 3, so he usually was the first to be introduced. This time, he sat at the end of Central's bench, surrounded by friends in black shirts that read "Play for Pete."
The news struck a nerve with Abington Heights coach Ken Bianchi, who said he and one of his assistants each had a player stricken with the disease.
"Nobody should have to put up with that. It's shocking," Bianchi said. "Anything we can do, we wanted to do."
The Comets presented Falci with a card after taking donations during a spaghetti dinner earlier this week. His spirit impressed Abington Heights' captains, too, Basalyga said.
Falci's fight brought two unrelated teams close for a few hours.
Contact Matt Goul at 771-2045.
CENTRAL YORK (40)
Shaffer 2 0-0 5, Saxton 4 0-3 9, Jared Wagner 5 1-2 11, Markey 1 0-0 3, Gingrich 3 1-1 7, Luckenbaugh 1 0-0 2, Marino 1 0-2 3, Edmonds 0 0-0 0.
Totals — 17 2-8 40.
ABINGTON HEIGHTS (47)
Clay Basalyga 4 3-6 11, Ksiazek 2 1-4 6, Hollander 3 0-0 8, Matt McDonald 5 2-2 12, Toro 1 0-0 2, Maxwell 0 0-0 0, Klingman 1 1-5 4, Danzig 0 0-0 0, Wickenheiser 2 0-0 4.
Totals — 18 7-17 47.
Central York1210117—40Abington Heights1310915—47
3-point goals — CY 4 (Shaffer, Saxton, Markey, Marino), AH 4 (Hollander 2, Ksiazek, Klingman).