YAIAA final: Central, Northeastern chase title
Teams won memorable semifinal games, set to meet for championship. (Teddy Feinberg/GameTimePA.com)
Forget championship trophies and banners, Central York just wanted to see the postseason earlier this year.
It didn't look promising when Central York sat at 7-6 in mid-January.
Central wanted to play in the District 3 tournament.
Central wanted a chance to play in its fourth consecutive YAIAA tournament title game.
But first, Central needed to clear the air.
If Central kept playing like it had in December and early January, it was headed nowhere. Call it an altar call or an ultimatum. Kevin Schieler sat his team down and told his players if they wanted to reach the postseason holy land, they had to make some changes.
Starting with a non-conference win at Carlisle, it started to fall into place. Central York has won 10 of its last 11. It hasn't dropped a game to a league foe since Jan. 13.
"It's a big game and a big accomplishment as well," Central senior Courtney Batts said of reaching the league championship game. "We had a goal in the beginning of the year, and we built off our confidence and our bond."
Schieler credited his senior class as the reason for the turnaround.
But this is more than just a one-team show: Central York (17-7) will need to beat Northeastern (22-2) when the two teams tip off in the YAIAA title game at 7 p.m. Friday at York College. For one, the Panthers are playing against the favorites to win the crown. A team many had pegged to be here before a single game was played.
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Central York checks in for the fourth consecutive year at the title game, a game the Panthers' senior class has never missed.
At the other end of the floor, it's a different story.
It's Northeastern's first title appearance in more than a decade.
Moreover, Northeastern High School has never won a YAIAA title. The last hoops league title for this section of the county came when Manchester High won it in 1957.
"Being in it for first time ever (as a player) is really big," Northeastern senior Austin Green said.
But it's not a paralyzing feeling.
"We feel confident," Northeastern junior Antonio Rizzuto said.
Northeastern has a team built to win championships.
They have a guard, in Fred Mulbah, who can break any press with ease. They have a shooter, in Antonio Rizzuto, who can hit a jumper from any section of the floor. They have Brandon Coleman, who can slash or hit the pull-up jumper. And they have a player like Green, who opponents tend to forget about until he drops in 15 points.
In that sense, Northeastern is similar to Central: Each team has multiple candidates of leading their team on the score sheet.
But that's where the comparisons end.
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It promises to be a fun matchup.
Northeastern loves to run.
"They're great fundamentally and an aggressive team," Batts said. "That's how we're going to win; we have to match their physicality."
Central loves to play defense and dictate tempo.
"They move, they share the ball really well," Green said. "They have a good team that can slow the game down and get what they want to do."
Rizzuto looked back on that regular-season loss to Central, but he doesn't blame the tempo for the loss.
"That's not why we lost to them the last time; there's a whole lot of other aspects," Rizzuto said.
The biggest reason for that loss might have been the way Northeastern reacted to the slower tempo.
"We have to shoot smarter shots," Rizzuto said. "We came down and tried to score, score, score.
"We will have to slow down, too, and make sure we hit the right buttons."
Expect the title game to come down to adjustments, and the team that makes them should be the one taking home the gold medals.
If you go
Who: Central York vs. Northeastern
What: YAIAA boys' basketball championship game
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: York College