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Central, Spring Grove set to pack house for playoff game

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Forget about losing its top scorers.

Forget about losing its top rebounders.

Central York had to replace leaders.

It has seniors — five, actually — on this year's squad. And four of them played significant minutes last season. But they needed time to adjust to being the big shots. They had always deferred to older players.

“This year, they’ve definitely become leaders,” junior Garrett Markey said.

“They’ve started to carry us, and I think that’s the most important thing about us this season.”

It’s all starting to click for Central at the right time, which is to say the time when it always seems to click for Central York basketball.

Central York needed a strong second half to defeat Dover on Saturday night, but the Panthers came through in convincing fashion and advanced to a YAIAA tournament semifinal Wednesday at Red Lion.

The Panthers will play Spring Grove, which needed a strong second half to defeat Delone Catholic.

It's a showdown between two programs that have grown familiar with the other. Central York and Spring Grove met four times last season, with Central winning three of the matchups, but the lone loss was a painful one: Spring Grove won the league championship game.

The league semifinal matchup marks the schools’ third meeting this year, with each program going on the road to earn a win. Now they meet on a neutral floor, but don’t call it a rivalry just yet.

“You know, Central has always given Spring Grove a licking,” Spring Grove coach James Brooks said.

Central is the more established program. In fact, the Panthers will be playing for the right to play in their fourth straight league title game.

Central has players who have grown up accustomed to winning, and as Brooks was quick to note, that’s a huge advantage.

But the Rockets have something Central can’t match: a University of Michigan recruit and a 2,000-point scorer in Eli Brooks.

Even opposing players think he's something special.

“It’s fun to pay against Eli because he’s such a good player,” Markey said.

In their last meeting, Central shut down Spring Grove’s role players and kept Brooks under 40 points to earn the victory. Central won in part because it had five players crack double figures in scoring, but don’t expect Central to rely just on its offensive touch.

“When we won at their place, we had one of our most efficient offensive nights of the season,” Central coach Kevin Schieler said. “But with the way Eli scores, they could probably score up (in the high 60s) as well.”

The bread-and-butter for Central has always been its switching man-to-man defense.

“Central plays a really good defense, a different type of defense,” Spring Grove’s Austin Panter said. “They switch every time on man.”

So instead of coming off a screen and finding an open lane to the hoop, an offensive player will instead find a new Central defender right in his chest.

It’s the same defense Schieler learned and played while a student at York Catholic under coach Mike Keesey. It’s the same defense Schieler implemented shortly after he arrived at Central. And it’s the same defense that his staff knows inside and out.

For instance, assistant Joe Falci used to coach in the York Catholic program. Schieler noted, “he remembers all the little things that I’ve forgotten.”

If you go

What: YAIAA tournament semifinal
Matchup: Central York vs. Spring Grove
When: 6 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Red Lion High School
Title game: Friday at York College