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The Panthers used a second half surge to down Warriors, win holiday tournament. (Teddy Feinberg/GameTimePA.com)

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The cream typically rises to the top, and it certainly did Thursday night at Central York High School.

The Central York girls' basketball team did not get off to a strong start, looking ragged in the first half against a hard-working and well-prepared Susquahannock squad in the championship game of the Panthers' tournament.

But things changed in the final two quarters. Central's defense earned credit for this victory, as the Panthers allowed just 14 second-half points — and just two in the third quarter — to win by double figures in a 45-35 victory.

Central York is now 8-1 on the season with a big game coming Tuesday against New Oxford. The Panthers and Colonials are two of the top teams in the YAIAA this season and expect to duke it out for the top spot in division.

The Warriors are now 7-2 in what continues to look like a wide open race in YAIAA Division II.

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Central York head coach Scott Wisner admitted his team didn't play a particularly good first half. The Panthers scored four second-quarter points, while Susquehannock came into the contest as a team with a plan.

The Warriors ran a play seemingly every time they went downcourt, passed well in their offensive sets and rebounded effectively, taking a 21-16 lead at intermission.

"We missed some layups. Probably should have been up by about nine instead of five," Warriors coach Dave Schreiner said. "But I thought overall in the first half, defensively we did everything we needed to do. ... We rebounded very well."

The Panthers made their push in the third quarter, however. The tide began to turn as Susquehannock simply missed some shots, allowing the Panthers to get out in the open floor and put the ball in the bucket more effectively.

Central turned up its pressure defense, too, and a vicious cycle ensued: The Warriors would rush their offense or turn the ball over, and the Panthers turned those miscues into points of their own.

"When Coach says that we're pressing, I think we get a little excited," Central senior wing Emma Saxton said. "It's an awesome feeling. ... The defense gives us our points."

Said Wisner: "I thought we gave them a lot less space in the second half. Couple that with the defensive pressure on the full court and creating some easy baskets. (It's) a winning formula for us."

Schreiner said Central's press defense forced the Warriors to put up ill-advised shots in the third period — early in the possession and from beyond the 3-point arc — in stark contrast to the methodical offense of the first half.

"Our scorekeeper didn't have much to do," Schreiner quipped of his team's third-quarter effort.

"The problem was, when they were pressing and we were in transition, we weren't hitting anything," he added. "We kept putting it up there instead of getting to the basket."

Saxton led all scorers with 19 points while Teirra Preston added 12 and Nikson Valencik scored nine.

Maddie Stone led the Warriors with eight points while Taylor Tannura scored seven. Jayla Galbreath finished with six, knocking down two deep 3-point shots including a fading attempt in the first half that gave Susquehannock a 17-16 lead.

Central York now turns its attention to its big game Tuesday against the Colonials.

What does Saxton expect from that matchup?

"Victory," Saxton said with a laugh.

She then clarified her comment: "It'll be a good game. We're two really good teams, and it's exciting."

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