HERSHEY >> Six minutes still remained, and Troy Sowers sensed William Penn's district title hopes slipping away.
Jahaire Wilson, his experienced junior, had four fouls but could no longer stay on the bench.
Sowers called it a necessary gamble, which paid in the form of the Bearcats' second District 3 Class AAAA championship in four years. Their 54-52 win Saturday against Cedar Crest at Giant Center gave William Penn its 11th title in school history and tied York Catholic for most by a York County school.
The Bearcats (22-6) achieved the mark with Wilson playing the final stretch under tense circumstances. One more foul, and he was gone.
Down by double digits in the fourth quarter, the 6-foot-3 Wilson had to play.
William Penn trailed since late in the first quarter but won it on a Kristopher Johnson jump shot just a step inside the 3-point line with only a few second remaining. For a moment the Bearcats celebrated, thinking the game was over. There was still 2.8 seconds left.
Cedar Crest (25-5) found itself in the familiar position of inbounding the ball for one last shot, left of the basket and needing to travel the length of the floor. The Falcons advanced to this stage on the same play with 1.7 seconds left in the semifinals when Evan Horn hit Andrew Eudy for a buzzer-beater against Central York. This time, they had more time but no Eudy.
Instead, Cedar Crest guard Seth Daubert could not handle Horn's inbounds pass and lost it out in front of the Giant Center scorers' table. Cedar Crest coach Tom Smith said he wanted a pass to midcourt to use his last timeout and set up a closer vantage point.
Eudy was no option for another Hail Mary because he fouled out with 4 minutes, 5 seconds left, defending Wilson on a baseline drive. Sowers said the play was designed to draw that final foul on the 6-6 Eudy. Wilson and his teammates later said they held their breath awaiting the referee's call.
Sowers did not deny the coaching tightrope he just walked. Both he and Smith thought the game, officiated by a Mid-Penn crew, was called tightly. The foul calls led William Penn's Stephen Dickson and Cedar Crest's Nick Miller to the bench, and Smith questioned whether his team got the short end of some verdicts.
"You take those two out of our rotation, and it's big losses for us," Smith said of Eudy and Miller.
William Penn's largest deficit was 14 points late in the third quarter. The Bearcats shaved that difference to eight before Wilson drew his fourth foul in the final 20 seconds of that period. Sowers said he wanted to wait later in the fourth to bring back Wilson but felt pressed.
His last words to Wilson, before the junior walked back onto the court: "Don't foul," which echoed the message from teammates.
"We had to do it," Sowers said. "Those kind of games, you have to take chances."
Those chances came against a Cedar Crest team that pulled a similar 13-point rally against Central York. Around the same time Saturday, with six minutes left, Trey Shifflett's fourth 3-pointer cut Cedar Crest's advantage down six.
"We're not losing this game," Shifflett said he thought to himself down 14. "I'll do whatever it takes."
Shifflett scored a game-high 21 points. He had seven straight in the fourth.
With last year's district final overtime loss to Harrisburg weighing on their minds, Wilson carried the later rally with putbacks in the final 2:15. The tussles he won turned a four-point deficit to zero. Then he drew the charge to take out Miller. It allowed William Penn to run the final 1:14 down to 20 seconds — in a similar fashion that preserved their last two wins against top-seeded Wilson and Hershey. The ploy set up for what Sowers wanted: a mismatch that allowed Johnson to take a jumper over a taller, yet slower defender.
They completed the comeback with no room for error.
"Last year I felt so disappointed winning a silver medal," said Wilson, who scored 13 points and grabbed eight rebounds. "This year I had to come get it."
CEDAR CREST (52)
Daubert 1 2-4 4, Bucher 3 0-0 8, Miller 4 1-2 9, Eudy 4 1-2 9, Evan Horn 4 2-2 10, Gristick 0 0-0 0, Kern 0 0-0 0, Frost 0 0-0 0, Garloff 2 1-2 6, Eberhart 0 4-4 4, Ferreira 1 0-0 2.
Totals — 19 11-16 52.
WILLIAM PENN (54)
Trey Shifflett 6 5-7 21, Johnson 2 2-4 6, Shaw 1 0-0 2, Smallwood 1 2-4 4, Jahaire Wilson 3 7-12 13, Dickson 0 0-0 0, Maddox 2 2-2 6, Favers 1 0-0 2.
Totals — 16 18-29 54.
3-point goals — CC 3 (Bucher 2, Garloff), WP 4 (Shifflett 4).