The Northeastern boys' basketball team won their first league championship, knocking off Central York to win the YAIAA title Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. Jim Seip, GameTimePA.com
It was only a few minutes into the first quarter, but Northeastern looked gassed.
Taking on Central York in the YAIAA title game at York College on Friday, the Bobcats weren't hitting their shots early and trailed by seven at the end of the first quarter. But the deficit wouldn't last for long.
The Bobcats overcame their jitters and got their up-tempo offense going, embarking on a 14-1 run that led to a five-point halftime lead. They cruised for most of the second half on their way to a 62-51 win and the first league title in school history.
"We had to fumble through the beginning of the game until we were able to get our legs and catch our breath," Northeastern head coach Jon Eyster said. "We put a little bit more pressure on Central and took them out of the offense, that was the key for us."
After losing in the tournament semifinals two straight seasons in heartbreaking fashion, Northeastern's players were joyous as gold medals were slipped around their necks. The Bobcats will enter the District 3 tournament next week as the No. 1 seed in Class 5A.
And while they admitted to being nervous early on, the Bobcats said they were confident entering the title game. Northeastern had lost to Central York by four points Jan. 21 at the end of a three-game week, but the Bobcats felt fresher on Friday.
"We learned that we had to step up on defense after that game," Northeastern senior Brandon Coleman said. "Our bodies were physically tired that game so today we came back rejuvenated.
"We definitely had a chip on our shoulders. For years and years we would get close and end up losing it, but we tried as hard as we could to not let it slip out of our hands this year."
Coleman helped snap Northeastern out of its early funk, scoring eight points in the first half and hitting a 3-pointer that cut Central's lead to one in the second quarter. He finished with 14 points, second on the team in scoring to Fred Mulbah's game-high 17 points.
Overall, the Bobcats' combination of speed and shooting for too much for Central. All five of Northeastern's starters scored at least eight points, with Antonio Rizzuto (11) and Nate Wilson (10) reaching double-digits. Rizzuto struggled early offensively but made several highlight plays — including a block and a putback dunk — in the second half.
"You've got to look at the big picture," Rizzuto said. "I had to do other things when my shot wasn't falling. Get rebounds, hit outlet passes, all kinds of different stuff. I only scored 11 points but it's alright."
On the other side, Central York was remarkably efficient early on and opened shooting 5-for-6 from the field. But the Panthers couldn't keep it going, and struggled in the second quarter when leading scorer Courtney Batts had to sit with two fouls. Batts led Central York with 16 points.
It's the third straight year Central has lost in the league title game. The Panthers will now enter the District 3 Class 6A playoffs as the No. 9 seed.
"I have no idea what to say to (my players) in that (silver medal) line because no matter what I say, they're bummed," Central York coach Kevin Schieler said. "Their hearts are broken and they know how much work they've put in. They're happy to be here but it's really difficult."
Fans lined up outside York College's Wolf Gymnasium and out the door of the Grumbacher Sport and Fitness Center for the YAIAA boys' basketball championship game Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. Jim Seip, GameTimePA.com