Central York was so close to the District 3 Class AAA title game.
But the Panthers never got there, swept away in Exeter's youthful exuberance and naiveté Thursday night at Dallastown High School.
How else do you explain how the Eagles came back from a 0-2 hole to win, 20-25, 24-26, 25-17, 25-19, 15-6?
Exeter, with its 10 sophomores on the roster, might be too young to know the gravity of the semifinal win. The Eagles will advance to the PIAA tournament regardless of the outcome of Saturday's District 3 championship game.
"Sometimes, young teams don't know any better, and that's what makes them scary," Central York coach Nate Ocasio said.
The Panthers (13-4), the No. 6 seed in the tournament, were fully aware of the match's weight and fully aware when victory was slipping out of their grasps. They'll have to win the third-place game if they want their season to continue in the PIAA tournament. They face Hempfield at 5 p.m. Saturday at Dallastown Middle School.
Central had no problems in the first game, when junior Naya Cheatham was blasting everything in her path. Her six straight service points put the Panthers up 10-2 and her two blocks and two kills down the stretch helped seal the first game and momentum. But the Eagles slowly gained it back.
Central York barely held on to win the second game but had the young Eagles staring at elimination to start the third.
There weren't many senior leader pep talks. Exeter (17-0), the No. 2 seed in the tournament, has only one on the roster, and just one junior too.
"We haven't really faced adversity like that this year in a match, but we have been preaching to them all year: It's going to be very difficult for anyone to beat us in a five-game match," Exeter coach Jason Grove said. "We'll take our chances against just about anybody."
It was just time to play. Get some solid swings and build from there.
Grove didn't even make any changes, he said.
"My time is at practice, and their time is at the matches," Grove said. "I am a firm believer that they need to win or lose the match themselves and not rely on the coaching staff to make changes for them."
With the Eagles trailing 15-13 in the third game, Grove did call a timeout to slow Central York's momentum. It clearly worked. The Eagles finished the third game on a 12-2 run following the timeout, forcing a Game 4.
"Against a young team like that, you have to capitalize," Ocasio said. "You have to play for the next point. You can't let a team build momentum and build confidence. It's the way it goes. When someone is down 2-0, you have to throw the dagger and take care of business."
Then, despite the best efforts of Central York senior Hadley Swartz, the Eagles won Game 4, too.
With the Panthers trailing 18-13 in the fourth game, Swartz tried to take over. She scored the next six points for her team with blistering kills that often found the back corners. But the Panthers could not hold possession or momentum long enough for it to matter.
It was clear who would be winning the deciding fifth game after that.
"We just don't have enough fight right now," Swartz said. "It was time to come out and lay it all the floor and we just didn't have it tonight."
at Dallastown H.S.
EXETER 3, CENTRAL 2
(20-25, 24-26, 25-17, 25-19, 15-6)
Central York -- Erin Dobbeck (42 assists, 2 kills), Hadley Swartz (23 kills, 16 digs, 2 aces), Sydney Gallagher (3 kills, 1 ace, 5 blocks), Naya Cheatem (5 blocks, 5 kills, 6 aces), Andrea Quartey (10 kills, 3 blocks).
Exeter -- Danielle Faust (9 kills, 14 digs), Gabbie Stick (15 kills), Sara Wesley (12 kills, 11 digs, 4 blocks, 4 aces), Shanon Restrepo (44 assists, 10 digs).