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Northeastern downs Greencastle after close start

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After falling to Northeastern twice during the regular season, Greencastle-Antrim's boys basketball team knew it was in for a battle Thursday night.

The Blue Devils made adjustments and kept the game much closer than the last time the squads met.

But after a fiery hot start for both teams, the No. 1-seeded Bobcats finally started to pull away in the fourth quarter and eventually captured a 73-52 victory in the District 3 Class 5A quarterfinals.

"We knew were in the game, and we have nothing to be ashamed of," G-A coach Rick Lewis said. "That is an outstanding basketball team, and they're going to be a bear for anyone to deal with. That was our third swing at them. We tried three different strategies, and tonight we competed for every inch of that floor."

Both teams came out firing, and Greencastle, which usually plays only seven deep, attempted to try to slow things down in the second quarter. But Northeastern's quickness and athleticism prevailed in the end.

Leading by just eight heading into the fourth quarter, the Bobcats turned up the defensive pressure. They notched three straight fastbreak layups to push the lead back to double figures for good.

"If we rebound, then we can go, but if they score, we can't go because they get a chance to set up," Northeastern coach Jon Eyster said. "It's important that we defend and make them take tough shots, and we didn't do that all night. They got some open looks, so you have to give Greencastle a lot of credit."

Northeastern (25-2) advances to play a rematch with Spring Grove (20-6) for a trip to the district final, while G-A (16-9) drops to the consolation bracket and will take on Manheim Central (20-5) on Monday at East Pennsboro at 8 p.m.

Despite the loss, Greencastle is already looking forward to matchup with the Barons. In its last seven games, the lowest seed the Blue Devils have faced was No. 12 Waynesboro in a game that decided the Mid Penn Colonial Division.

"We're used to the atmosphere, and we're comfortable playing in front of big crowds in big games," G-A's Ben Freeman said. "We're going to be ready; we're going to finish off districts hard and get ready for states."

Lewis said, "I think we already have (shaken this off). We knew this was going to be a tough atmosphere, and we played well. We'll refocus and go from there. We haven't had an easy game for what feels like a month and a half. We've run the gauntlet."

One of Greencastle's biggest disadvantages against Northeastern came on the boards. The Bobcats were constantly in and around the glass, boxing out against a zone defense that didn't penetrate well.

"We felt like we could offensively rebound tonight," Eyster said. "Antonio (Rizzuto), Brandon (Coleman) and Fred (Mulbah) stick out in my head. Those guys did a really good job on the defensive boards. For us, all year, if we stay in front, don't allow dribble penetration and rebound, we're pretty good."

A major factor in the Blue Devils keeping the game close was Freeman's game-high 22 points. He had 11 after the first quarter and finished with six 3-pointers.

"I felt good shooting the ball in warmups and my teammates did a good job of finding me," Freeman said. "Coach told us that every time when we were open we needed to shoot, so I just let it fly."

G-A senior Casey Hoover said, "We were just ready to play. The last game, they shot the lights out and they're a very good shooting team, but this time, after that win against Shippensburg, we wanted to show what we could do."

Northeastern's next meeting with Spring Grove will certainly be hyped. The teams split two regular season matchups, and it should make for a good rivalry game. While Spring Grove boasts Michigan recruit Eli Brooks, the Bobcats will be focused on his supporting cast.

"We're not going to keep Eli from scoring; we have to keep the other guys contained," Eyster said. "We don't want (Austin) Panter or (Jake) Messersmith or any of the other guys to score 20. They also play great defense, so it'll be a good game, no doubt about it."