When Jared Wagner banked in a 3-pointer off the backboard on his first shot of the second half, he turned to the crowd with a look of relief.
Central York's senior point guard had been struggling to hit his shots in the opening quarter of Thursday’s YAIAA basketball tournament semifinal against Eastern York. That is, he struggled until he hit the Panthers’ first shot of the third quarter, followed by a fade-away jump shot moments later and two more 3-pointers in the frame.
That offensive outburst spurred Central to a 64-48 win against the Golden Knights, sending them to the YAIAA boys’ championship game, set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday against Spring Grove at York College. (Watch the game live at GameTimePA.com.)
“He’s been our energy guy all year,” Central coach Kevin Schieler said of Wagner. “I think he was a little frustrated. He wasn’t getting some of the shots he wanted and wasn’t getting shots to fall. Give him one or two energy plays in a row, and he just really becomes a tough guy to defend.”
Wagner finished the night with 20 points, scoring all but two of those in the second half.
“I couldn’t make anything in the first half,” Wagner said. “I guess I just needed to see one shot go in, but Tommy O’Neill played great for us. He knocked down some big shots in the first half and some of the role players — Courtney (Batts) — played great. We always get great contributions from our role players.”
The Golden Knights kept pace with Central through the first half and even tied it at 14 to start the second quarter. But Batts quickly put the Panthers back in the lead with a pair of foul shots.
Eastern's Jared Achterberg, who finished with 14 points, cut the Panthers' lead to just two in the middle of the second quarter, but that was the closest the Golden Knights got.
The Panthers offense found its scoring touch in the second half, when it got 11-point performances out of Batts and Onterio Edmonds to go along with Wagner’s spark.
Schieler credited Wagner's energy and emotion with driving the team's success this season. It’s a role that Wagner has taken to heart over the year.
“When I was a lot younger in my sophomore year I used just energy,” Wagner said. “Come in 10-12 minutes a game and just play defense. I’ve really stepped up my offensive game a little bit. Worked on some stuff, knocked down open jump shots now.
“But it’s all about getting stops. If I can keep getting stops, then I guess I can help my team.”
Getting stops will be key for Saturday when Central squares off with Eli Brooks and Spring Grove. Central has beaten the Rockets twice this season, but containing Brooks will be a challenge.
“You can’t (stop Brooks),” Wagner said. “You have to make his shots hard.”
Eastern York (48)
Jared Achterberg 6 2-4 14, Nicholas 3 1-2 9, Woods 1 2-2 4, Springer 2 1-1 5, Dominic Particelli 7 1-2 16. Totals — 19 7-11 48.
Central York (64)
Courtney Batts 3 4-8 11, G. Markey 1 0-0 2, Ray 0 0-0 0, Onterio Edmonds 4 3-4 11, Tommy O’Neill 3 0-0 8, N. Markey 3 2-3 10, Jared Wagner 7 3-4 20, Sobestanovich 1 0-0 2, Czilada 0 0-0 0. Totals — 22 12-19 64.
Eastern York _ 11 _ 9 _ 14 _ 14 _ — _ 48
Central York _ 14 _ 12 _ 16 _ 22 _ — _ 64
3-point goals — CY 8 (Wagner 3, N. Markey 2, O’Neill 2, Batts), EY 3 (Nicholas 2, Particelli).