Sam Saxton of Central York hooks a basket over Red Lion defender Stone McCreary during a York-Adams League basketball semifinal on Tuesday. Saxton scored
Sam Saxton of Central York hooks a basket over Red Lion defender Stone McCreary during a York-Adams League basketball semifinal on Tuesday. Saxton scored 18 points in Central's win. (JOHN A. PAVONCELLO -- jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com)

RED LION — The beauty of the Central York boys' basketball team is that the Panthers do so many things well.

Offensive rebounding. Clutch shots. Distributing the ball to open teammates. Handling the ball.

Check, check, check and check.

Those characteristics were again on display Tuesday night in a York-Adams League playoff semifinal against Red Lion.

Perhaps Lions' coach Steve Schmehl said it best after his team fell for the third time this season to the Panthers, this one a 51-42 setback on Red Lion's home court.

"They're not going to beat themselves," he said of a Central team that turned the ball over just four times Tuesday. "You've got to make plays. You've got to make tough plays."

Central York’s Andrew Sauers goes up for two while covered by Red Lion defenders Bennett Frey, left, and Jason Rebuck during a York-Adams League
Central York's Andrew Sauers goes up for two while covered by Red Lion defenders Bennett Frey, left, and Jason Rebuck during a York-Adams League basketball semifinal on Tuesday. (JOHN A. PAVONCELLO -- jpavoncello@yorkdispatch.com)

A pivotal sequence in the fourth quarter proved Schmehl's point exactly. After Stone McCreary knocked down a triple with 5:14 left to pull the Lions to within 39-38, the Panthers answered back. A missed shot by Central was corralled on the offensive boards, where a pass out to Sam Saxton beyond the arc led to a big 3-pointer for the Panthers (21-2).

"The key to the game was rebounding," Schmehl said. "We got killed on the offensive glass. Every time we'd get it to one or two points, there's a huge offensive rebound and then a kick out for a three or an offensive rebound and bucket. And that was the difference in the game. They're good enough ... they don't need second or third chances."

Another case in point. Seconds after the Lions cut the deficit to 42-40 on a Mike Fox runner, the Panthers hit another big shot — this one from guard Peter Falci — to push the lead up again, this time to 45-40.

It's those type of big shots that have helped the Panthers storm through the regular season unbeaten against fellow York-Adams foes.

"It wasn't always there in the first half," said Central coach Kevin Schieler, whose team is in the midst of a 15-game winning streak. "But it was there late when we needed it."

The Panthers' depth also came into play throughout the night. While Saxton led all scorers with 18 points, he was the only Central player with more than seven. Andrew Sauers, Charlie Gingrich and Falci each finished with six each, with Royce Clemens scoring seven in the victory.

"That's just how our team is," Saxton said. "We know that someone will make a play."

While Gingrich finished with only six points, the forward was a constant presence on the boards. Gingrich finished with a game-high 11 rebounds, many of which extended offensive possessions.

"He's always doing that," Saxton said. "He's a fun player to play with because he'll get a rebound quick, a (defensive) stop quick, and he's there to get us the ball."

McCreary and Jason Rebuck led the Lions (19-5) with 13 points each, while Fox finished with 11.

Title game: The Panthers will look to claim their first league title in 40 years Thursday when they face York High, a 70-66 winner over West York in the other semifinal Tuesday at Red Lion. Central, which last won the crown back in 1974, defeated the Bearcats early in the season but never got to finish up their home-and-home series with the Bearcats because of inclement weather.

Fortunately the two schools will get that second showdown, albeit with a whole lot more at stake then any regular-season contest.

"It's going to be a very, very tough game," Schieler said. "We haven't seen them since before Christmas. And they've gotten much, much better since then. So we didn't get a chance to play them a second time so I'm kind of glad to see York High because I know that (Bearcat) Coach (Troy) Sowers and I never wanted to cancel that game. But we didn't have any options. So we're looking forward to that game."

Tickets, weather plans: Central York will sell tickets on Wednesday and Thursday from 10:30 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. in the school atrium. Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students.

If Thursday's title game is postponed because of an expected winter storm, it will be played at 6 p.m. Saturday at York College.

If the girls' championship game is postponed on Friday, then the boys' title game will take place beginning at 5 p.m. on Saturday, and the girls' final will begin at 8 p.m. The gymnasium will be cleared between games.

Both title games will be played at York College.

— Reach Ryan Vandersloot at sports@yorkdispatch.com.