HERSHEY -- Thanks to a bit of luck with the rim at the Giant Center, the Susquehannock girls' basketball team is rising to new-found heights.
Just four days removed from stunning previously unbeaten Lancaster Catholic, the Warriors and one of their standouts, Makenzie Fancher, were riding on cloud nine.
Wednesday night against York-Adams League Division I champion West York in a District 3-AAA semifinal, Fancher and company found out that there is a cloud higher than nine.
Fancher knocked down 1-of-2 free throws with 8.4 seconds left to put her team ahead by one. After a Bulldog timeout with 4.6 ticks left, West York's Emily Wood nearly connected on a game-winning shot with 1.2 seconds on the clock.
Wood's shot, however, sat above the rim before kicking out at the buzzer, sending the Warriors to the district title game Saturday morning with a 43-42 victory.
"Cloud 10?" Fancher asked herself for a second.
"No, cloud 11," she retorted while laughing. "We jumped up two (clouds)."
Susquehannock, the No. 6 seed entering the playoffs, will get a chance to knock off top-seeded Palmyra (27-0) at 11:30 a.m. back at the Giant Center. The Warriors (18-7) have now beaten both No. 2 West York (23-5) and No. 3 Lancaster Catholic (26-1) en route to the finals.
"To know that we finally made our goal is just an amazing feeling," said Fancher, who couldn't stop smiling during her post-game interview. "It's overwhelming."
While the Warriors celebrated on the floor, the truth of the matter was they were mere inches away from tasting what could have been another agonizing defeat.
The Warriors have already dropped four close games this season -- to Dover twice (41-39 and 38-36), West York (58-49, a game in which they led by nine after three periods) and Red Lion (54-52). If Wood's last-second shot fell through the hoop, it would have been a fifth narrow loss and a completely different feeling for both squads.
"To be so close in all of those games ... we knew we would get there," Fancher said. "And (those losses) motivated us for the rest of the season to get to a point where we know that we can get there."
Fancher, who scored six points, didn't have a good feeling when Wood took the inbounds pass at the top of the key, drove left and then slashed toward the basket while firing off a six-foot runner. The ball hit the glass, bounced off the front of the rim and stayed above the hoop for a brief second before hitting the rim and bouncing out at the buzzer.
"I thought it was in," Fancher said. "I thought it was in. It was a great look and a great play diagrammed for them at the end."
The one-point victory exorcised the demons from the Warriors' midseason loss to the Bulldogs. In that contest West York used a 21-3 fourth-quarter blitz to pull out a victory.
"We didn't want that to happen again," Fancher said.
It nearly did, though. The Bulldogs won the final period by a 17-11 margin.
Still, the one thing that West York couldn't do after staking out to an early 2-0 advantage was retake the lead. With 1:01 left in the contest, they came as close as possible when guard Kari Lankford, who scored all 11 of her points in the second half, hit a layup to even up the contest at 42-all.
After a timeout, the Warriors tried to hold the ball for the last shot. Fancher, however, bobbled a hand-off from teammate Jeannette Wilson at the top of the key and quickly fell on the ball while calling a timeout to prevent a costly turnover with 13.6 seconds left.
After the timeout, Fancher drove the baseline and was fouled while trying a layup that earned her the chance to break the deadlock. After making the first shot, her second attempt rimmed out and gave the Bulldogs a chance to win it.
"I'm one of the best foul shooters on the team and I knew that they wanted me on that foul line," Fancher said. "I had to make it for them and for our fans that came and for our parents that were watching. I would have rather had made both, but I guess 1-for-2 did it."
While Wood could do nothing more than look at the floor after missing her game-winning attempt, West York coach Jon Shultz made it clear that it wasn't that shot that did his team in. The Bulldogs, who never led, gave up an 11-0 run in the first quarter and trailed by as many as 15 points (31-16) in the third period.
"The first half and first quarter really killed us," Shultz said. "At this point of the (season), you can't have first quarters like that. But I'm proud of the way my girls fought back."
Shultz's club did just that in the second half. After falling behind by 15, the Bulldogs responded with a 9-0 run that spanned nearly six minutes of the period to make it a contest. They had several chances to take the lead after cutting the deficit to 37-36. Getting the lead, however, was the only hurdle Shultz's club couldn't overcome.
"I felt bad for Emily," Shultz said. "But that was not the shot that killed us."
Heather Zinn also chipped in 11 points to go along with 11 rebounds for the Bulldogs, who will face Gettysburg in a third-place contest at 6 Friday evening at Northern York. Katie Wagner led the Warriors with 15 points, while Wilson finished with 10.
-- Reach Ryan Vander sloot at sports@yorkdis patch.com.