Lizi Arbogast and Lindsey Smith break down this week's Franklin-Fulton boys District 3 play-in matchups.
Usually at least one or two boys basketball teams from Franklin County sneaks into the District 3 playoffs.
But this season, for the first time in nine years, a majority of the area's boys hoops teams have advanced to the postseason. This year, four teams face play-in games on Friday; the last time this many Franklin County teams were in the playoffs was 2006-07 when all six, including Scotland School, advanced.
Shippensburg (16-7) is the highest-ranked area team and is the only one to host a play-in game. The No. 16 Greyhounds will take on Red Lion (10-10) in Class AAAA.
"That's a big advantage," Ship coach Ray Staver said. "Our student body and fan base has really supported this team well. (We) play an exciting brand of basketball, and the sixth-man factor is very, very alive and well."
Also in AAAA, No. 18 Greencastle-Antrim (14-7) will travel to Manheim Township (13-9), while Chambersburg (11-10) snuck into the 20th spot and will be hosted by Mid Penn Commonwealth Division foe Central Dauphin East (13-9).
In Class AAA, No. 17 James Buchanan (13-9) will also hit the road for a game against Lancaster Catholic (14-9). All local games are at 7 p.m. on Friday, except the Rockets', which is set to tip at 5 p.m.
The Trojans had one of the more thrilling roads to the postseason. Chambersburg dug itself a hole by going on a seven-game losing streak midway through the season, but it climbed right back out. The Trojans won five of their six games, falling only to co-division champ Carlisle down the stretch. One of those five wins came on the road against none other than CD East, which had previously beaten the Trojans 59-54.
"Knowing that we can win isn't really going to be an issue," Trojan coach Shawn Shreffler said. "It's going to be going out and doing the things we need to do to be successful. I'm sure our guys are confident, and they know they can win, but they also understand that (the Panthers) are going to come out really, really hard."
Offensively, Chambersburg is currently led by Cole Christian (15.4 points per game), while ByShawn Mincie (11.1 ppg) is really starting to come on strong and had the final dagger in Chambersburg's 52-50 defeat of CDE. Cade Whitfield (10.3 ppg) also averages in double figures, and the Trojans recently saw the return of Carlin Christian, who was projected to be the starting point guard before an injury derailed the first half of his season.
Like Chambersburg, the Greyhounds also face a rematch. Ship hosted Red Lion in the Hound Invitational Tournament over the winter break and suffered a 55-41 defeat as part of a skid during which the Hounds lost five of six games. But Ship is a much different team than it was nearly a month and a half ago.
"That game we were right at the beginning of our rough spell," Staver said. "I don't really know that we were prepared to play either of those games (at the HIT). But now, we've won eight in a row (prior to a loss to Harrisburg in the Mid Penn Conference tournament), and five of those games were in seven days. So we've done a lot of really good things in the last three weeks or so."
In the first meeting, the Lions were much more aggressive on the boards than Shippensburg, so that will be a main focus Friday. The Hounds will rely on forwards Wade Mills, who is averaging close to a double-double, and Teagan Staver, who has come on strong of late.
Both Greencastle and JB face unfamiliar teams, but both coaches have watched at least some film of their opponents.
G-A faces off against Manheim Township, which has a record of 13-9 that could be higher but the Blue Streaks were forced to forfeit a pair of games for using an ineligible player.
The Blue Devils will be out-sized, as Greencastle coach Gary Martin estimated at least two Manheim Township players at 6-foot-4. But G-A is used to being undersized.
"They're probably looking at us as a team without an imposing size, and wondering how we get it done," Martin said. "We can't get any bigger, but everyone is bigger than us, so this is nothing new. We have to try to play our style of basketball; the size advantage is in their favor, but we're going to try to make it go in our favor (with speed and defense)."
Casey Hoover is the general of Greencastle's team, averaging in the top five in scoring in the area all season long. He currently sits at 16.5 points per game, and Bryan Gembe is also contributing 10.3 ppg. Greencastle will also rely on the defensive efforts of Brandon Stuhler and Ian Gelsinger, who has had double-digit scoring performances in two straight games.
James Buchanan will also implement a team-first strategy. Lancaster Catholic was the winner of Section 4 in the Lancaster-Lebanon League and has a solid forward duo in Sean Landis and Thomas Gonzalez.
The Rockets haven't been in the playoffs since the 2006-07 season, but they are coming off a big win over Southern Fulton and are playing with a lot of confidence. JB's leading scorer is inside force Ryan Hege, and it also boasts sharpshooter Gage Piper (10.3 ppg).
"For us, we worry more about ourselves and the way we play the game," JB coach Larry Strawoet said. "We feel like we're prepared for anything that anyone could show us. We just have to play both sides of the ball with intensity. This group has worked hard to achieve this, and now we just have to put it all out there."
All four local teams will certainly need to lay it all on the floor for a hope at returning for next week's first-round games. It's playoffs, after all, so it's now or never.
Note: The other area team in the District 3 playoffs is Greencastle-Antrim's girls, who received the No. 5 seed and therefore do not play in the play-in round. The Blue Devils (20-2) will host No. 12 seed Fleetwood (15-6) on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Area District 3 boys playoff preview
Who's in: Chambersburg, Shippensburg and Greencastle-Antrim in Class AAAA, and James Buchanan in Class AAA
Who do they play: Chambersburg travels to Central Dauphin East ... Shippensburg hosts Red Lion ... Greencastle heads to Manheim Township ... JB travels to Lancaster Catholic.
When are the games: All play-in games are Friday at 7 p.m., except JB's game, which will be at 5 p.m.
How much does it cost: Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for students.
Where to get updates: Public Opinion has the games fully covered on Twitter. For updates from Chambersburg, follow @liziarbogast; for Shippensburg, follow @EdGotwalsPO; for Greencastle-Antrim, follow @RageAgainstGMo; and for James Buchanan, follow @ShawnCMichael.