James Dougherty joined the York Catholic basketball team hoping to help add to the program's rich hoops legacy.
He and his teammates earned their chance, but not before dealing with two seasons' worth of adversity.
"We had a rough couple of years, but we knew if we just stuck together, stuck through the hard times, we could be in a district final, that's why we're here," Dougherty said on Thursday before practice.
York Catholic (18-7) will take on long-time rival Delone Catholic (17-8) for the District 3-AA championship. The game is set for 6:45 p.m. Friday at the Giant Center in Hershey.
The Fighting Irish will be going for their 12th District 3 title, but the first one since 2007.
York Catholic finished
The Fighting Irish played last season without 6-foot, 5-inch Michael Sperring, who underwent emergency brain surgery. This season, Sperring is leading the team in scoring (13.2 points-per-game average) and 3-point baskets (34).
"This is great, getting ready to play in a district final," Sperring said. "You can only dream of stuff like this. My senior year, and I'm going to the Giant Center."
Sperring said the players want to win the title for head coach Joe Keesey, who's in his fourth season at the helm.
"He (Keesey) worked with us a lot. We really appreciate it," Sperring said.
Sperring and another tall senior, 6-6 Mark Burnside, combine for 25 points a game.
Pat Montgomery, who scored 12 points in Wednesday's 60-53 semifinal victory over Wyomissing, averages 7.3 points a game. Dougherty supplies 6.4 a contest, Joseph Rost comes in at 5.3 and Steve Heusser averages 4.6.
Keesey said that Dougherty's value to the team goes way beyond his scoring average.
"James is a good leader and a good point guard," Keesey said. "I think he's one of the best players in the league, but he doesn't get a lot of credit because he doesn't score a lot."
York Catholic averages 55.4 points a game compared to 61.2 for Delone Catholic. The Fighting Irish have a slight advantage in defensive yield per contest, 44.4 to 45.8.
The teams met twice this season, and York Catholic won both times, 61-48 and 56-41. Keesey, however, said the Squires are playing much better now than they were earlier in the season.
"Just look at the way they played against York High (a 76-63 double overtime loss in the York-Adams Tournament) and last night (a 60-41 victory over Columbia)," he said. "It seems like they're a better-balanced team (offensively) than they were when we played them."
Brett Smith, a 5-9 junior guard, is the star for the Squires. He averages 15.9 points a game. Seth Bullers supplies 13.3 a contest for the McSherrystown team.
"He (Smith) can score, he can dish, and when he gets out on the break, he's tough," Keesey said. "The other kids have stepped up, but he (Smith) is the key."
Keesey isn't certain what to expect defensively from veteran coach Jim Dooley's team.
"They've used man-to-man and a 1-3-1 trap, but last night they played a 2-3 (zone) against Columbia," he said.
Keesey said that Delone Catholic is his team's biggest rival.
"It used to be West York and later York Suburban, but it's become Delone," he said. "The players feel that way."
Burnside seconded his coach's opinion.
"York Catholic-Delone, it's a big rivalry," he said. "I wanted them in the final."
Burnside got his wish.
The Fighting Irish will now seek to turn back the Squires one more time and earn district gold medals and another championship banner.
"When you come in (to the gymnasium) and look up, the banners are everywhere," Dougherty said. "You walk in this school, you just know about the basketball tradition. You have to carry that tradition."
-- Reach Dick VanOlin da at dvanolinda@yorkdis patch.com or 505-5407.