Can New Oxford finally beat Central York?
The two best teams in the YAIAA will meet in the league tournament title game Thursday. Central York advanced with a win against York Catholic, while New Oxford earned its shot at the championship with a win against Delone Catholic.
The Colonials have lost to the Panthers twice this season
The New Oxford girls' basketball team is hoping the third time will be the charm.
On Thursday, the Colonials will meet Central York for the York-Adams girls' basketball title at 7 p.m. at York College. The two division rivals have played twice this season, with Central York winning both matchups.
It's certainly not impossible to beat a team in the playoffs after losing to them twice in the regular season. But the Colonials didn't just drop those two games: They were blown out both times, losing by 29 points on Jan. 3 and 25 points on Jan. 27.
What does New Oxford have to do this time to avoid a similar outcome?
"Not let them whup our butts," New Oxford head coach James Kunkle said. "We've got to play better defense, it's going to be a tough job. Just got to box out and control the boards too."
That's easier said than done. The Panthers have been the class of the league all season and enter the title game with a 21-2 overall record. They're also deep and balanced, featuring arguably the league's best all-around player in guard Emma Saxton alongside forwards Nikson Valencik and Teirra Preston.
More importantly, they seem to have New Oxford's number. Both teams play an up-tempo style, and the Panthers advantage in size has helped them control the first two games, according to Central York head coach Scott Wisner.
"We both have a lot of quick players and talented players that can hit from the perimeter, but at pretty much every position we're a little bit bigger," Wisner said. "We've just played two really solid defensive games against them. So if we can continue to do that, hopefully we'll be successful again. Maybe not to the same extent, but enough to get us a championship."
On the other hand, New Oxford enters the title game seemingly hotter than Central York. In the first two rounds of the league playoffs, the Colonials beat Susquehannock by 14 and Delone Catholic by 17. The Panthers, meanwhile, got off to slow starts against Dover and York Catholic.
Coming off one of their best shooting performances of the season, New Oxford's players feel they have a chance this time.
"We have to play like we did (against Delone), play as a unit and have fun," New Oxford senior Haley Still said. "(Last time) we were sluggish so we have to take it to them hard. If we could play them it would be awesome to show them what we're capable of."
As for motivation, both teams want this win badly. The Colonials have never won a league title, while the Panthers haven't claimed one since 1999. And both teams have veteran players looking to cap their careers with a title.
For Central, the memory of last season's YAIAA title game has been fueling them all season. The Panthers lost to Red Lion by one point when the Lions' Courtney Dimoff drew a foul with 2.6 seconds remaining and hit both free throws.
If the Panthers can win on Thursday, the disappointment from that game will finally be gone.
"It's really eating away at us, we felt like that was ours so we're just going to try and finish what we started," Saxton said. "It would mean the world to me to win."
If you go
What: YAIAA tournament final
Matchup: Central York vs. New Oxford
When: 7 p.m. Thursday
Where: York College
Livestream: Watch the game live at GameTimePA.com.