The Central York girls' basketball team brought home the program's first YAIAA title since 1999 on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. Jim Seip, GameTimePA.com
It was trouble from the opening whistle for the New Oxford Colonials.
They entered the YAIAA championship against Central York following two losses to the Panthers during the regular season — and they weren't close. The Colonials fell 61-32 on Jan. 3, and then 68-43 on Jan. 27.
New Oxford has a fine team and one that should make some noise in the District 3 tournament. But against the Panthers? The Colonials just haven't found the answers. And to be fair, not many teams do against the fourth-ranked team in District 3 Class 6A.
In Thursday's title game, the Panthers once again proved themselves, earning a 65-50 victory.
Facing that stacked Central offense, New Oxford had to pick its poison.
Come out in a zone defense? Watch the Panthers rain on your parade from deep, with Sarah Sepic and Nikson Valencik unleashing a barrage of 3-pointers. Each player hit two from long range during the opening quarter as Central York built a 20-13 lead.
So in the second period, New Oxford went to a straight man-to-man defense. No matter, however. Central continued its long-range bombing by knocking down three more from beyond the arc. Emma Saxton hit a 3 to open the stanza, then a ball deflected off a Colonial defender and right to Sepic — who went up to hit another from deep.
Central played ball control from there, holding possession for the final two minutes of the second quarter and taking a 32-17 lead into halftime. And the Colonials slowly withered after that.
"We tried something different coming out in a zone. ... They caught fire," said New Oxford head coach James Kunkle. "It is what it is. You're gambling at that point.
"We went to man a little bit. I thought we did a better job in the second half. We didn't want to come out in press because I know they're just like us. But they're definitely a lot faster than us, too."
It was a fulfilling win for Central York, which didn't have to look far for motivation.
The Panthers reached the YAIAA title game last year, losing to Red Lion, 35-34, at York College. Central returned much of its core from a season ago and seemed primed to return to the league driver's seat once again.
Yet preseason talk centered around the Colonials. They had a veteran nucleus, and appeared ready to make a run of their own. The Panthers took notice of the early-season speculation.
"It definitely fueled our fire," Sepic said. "Especially the first time, we came out and we won, the second time, and then coming into this game we knew we needed to do it one more time to get the big win."
For New Oxford, another hard-knock battle with a 6A contender serves as good preparation for the District 3 tournament. They played hard all night Thursday, cutting the deficit to 10 with 3:27 to go in the fourth quarter.
Tuesday, the Colonials open as a No. 3 seed in the Class 5A bracket against No. 14 Muhlenberg.
"We have a nice path. We want to learn from this," Kunkle said. "That's a great team. We're not going to see a team like that at districts, that I believe."
Against Central York, it was simply too tough a matchup throughout the season.
It was Central's year to claim the top spot in the YAIAA.
The Panthers proved that emphatically.