HERSHEY - A half hour after his Central York Panthers pulled off a miraculous overtime win, senior Jared Wagner lingered in an empty Giant Center, taking pictures with his family at halfcourt. A passerby jokingly asked if scoring his 1,000th career point in the first half was the most memorable part of the night.
"Nope," he replied with a smile.
Wagner didn't care about scoring his 1,000th career point. He didn't care about the personal accolade. It didn't matter unless Central won, he said. And the Panthers did.
Wagner scored a putback with two seconds left in overtime to send Central York to its first district title appearance since 1984.
Wagner, who reached the 1,000-point career scoring plateau during an 18-point flurry in the first half, was limited to three second-half points as Spring Grove erased an eight-point deficit. But with the Panthers down one with 11.3 seconds left in overtime, Central put the ball in Wagner's hands, and the senior came through. The York College commit drove down the lane and missed a floater off the rim, but he tipped in his own miss. A desperation heave at the buzzer by Spring Grove's Eli Brooks came up short, and the Central celebration was on with a 52-51 victory. Wagner raced to the Panthers' student section flanked by his teammates and cheerleaders.
"A lot of people don't like that," Wagner said of the celebration. "A lot of Spring Grove fans were ripping me and telling me to win with class. ... I'm an emotional guy, so I just did the first thing that came to my mind. ... I just play hard and play with emotion and a lot of people don't like that. But my fans like it."
For a team that was expected to take a step back this season, the dream ride continues. Central will take on Reading for the District 3 Class AAAA championship Saturday at 1 p.m.
"I'm so happy for this group of boys," Central York head coach Kevin Schieler said. "They're such a tight-knit group and I think we flew so far under the radar in the preseason. To have us here at this level makes me so happy for them."
Wagner and Brooks, who scored 22 points, went head-to-head all night with Central taking a second-half lead in a situation eerily similar to when the Panthers led late in the YAIAA title game. Wagner lifted Central to an eight-point lead, but once again, Brooks and the Rockets clawed back by holding Central to one fourth-quarter point.
"They have that gold medal and they'll always have that and we can't take that away," Schieler said of Spring Grove winning the previous meeting in the YAIAA title game. "But we are glad we'll be competing for a district championship."
A Brooks and-one tied the game at 47 late in the fourth, then both teams missed opportunities to win it. Grant Wierman's 3-pointer rimmed out at one end, and Wagner's half-court heave just missed off the front of the rim at the end of regulation.
"They're one of the best fourth-quarter teams I've ever seen," Wagner said of Spring Grove, which was playing in its first ever game at Giant Center,
In overtime, Darin Gordon, who scored 13 second-half points, gave Spring Grove a 51-50 lead with 11 seconds left. Then Wagner went to work.
"We ran a play to get the ball in and I saw a little hole to my left," Wagner said of the final play. "I took two or three dribbles and shot the floater. I shot a little bit too hard, then I tried to get off my feet as quick as I could."
Spring Grove will take on Wilson in the third-place game at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Warwick. Both teams already earned berths in the state tournament.
The Panthers, meanwhile, will be looking for their first district boys' title on Saturday when the take on Reading, which already owns 19 district crowns.
Spring Grove (51)
Eli Brooks 8 3-3 22, Darin Gordon 6 7-9 19, Wierman 1 0-0 2, Sager 2 0-0 4, Flaherty 0 0-0 0, Drew Gordon 1 0-0 2, Panter 1 0-0 2, Messersmith 0 0-0 0 . Totals — 19 10-12 51.
Central York (52)
Jared Wagner 7 6-7 23, Markey 2 2-4 6, Edmonds 3 0-0 7, Batts 3 0-0 7, Sobestonovich 1 0-0 2, Ray 0 0-0 0, Czulada 2 0-0 4, O'Neill 1 0-0 3. Totals — 19 8-11 52.
Spring Grove _ 14 _ 15 _ 9 _ 9 _ 4_ — _ 51
Central York _ 18 _ 13 _ 15 _ 1 _ 5 _ — _ 52
3-point goals — Central York 6 (Wagner 3, Edmonds, O'Neill, Batts), (Spring Grove 1 (Brooks).
District 3 Class AAAA title game
Who: (1) Central York (23-3) vs. (2) Reading (24-3)
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: Giant Center
Follow live: GameTimePA.com will have complete live multimedia coverage of the action.