MANCHESTER -- Winning a significant championship is on the bucket list for most Northeastern boys' volleyball players.
The Bobcats had a chance to do that last year in the York-Adams League Tournament finals against York Suburban, but were stymied by the Trojans, who advanced all the way to the PIAA Class AA state finals.
With another chance to earn a prestigious title on Thursday night in the regular-season home finale against fellow unbeaten and rival Central York, the hosts refused to squander another opportunity.
After the league's top two teams split the first two games, the Bobcats rallied from an early Game 3 deficit and followed that up by closing out the match in four tightly contested games.
The 25-22, 21-25, 25-20, 25-21 victory secured Stephen Braswell and company their first big crown -- the York-Adams regular-season title.
"How's it feel to finally win something?" a fan asked Braswell afterwards.
Braswell, who finished with a game-high 23 kills to go with 18 digs, didn't hold back.
"This is a very special one," Braswell said. "As you know, last year we didn't win anything and that kind of hurt. So that definitely made us motivated to come out here and try to get this one versus Central. That's what it's all about."
The turning point came in Game 3, when the Panthers held a 16-15 edge. After a kill by Phil White knotted up the score, Northeastern coach Matt Wilson took the unusual step of calling for a timeout.
"It was that time," Wilson said. "I just felt that this was one of those moments where we were siding-out and then watching. Side-out, watch, instead of side-out and working. And I just told them that was what I felt was happening. 'If you continue to watch, you're going to watch them hop on the bus with the title.'"
The Bobcats (11-0 in the league) responded by taking four of the next five points and led by at least two points from that point forward.
The 'Cats led for most of Game 4 and built up a seemingly comfortable five-point advantage late. Central, however, rallied to cut the deficit to 22-20 to force Wilson to take another timeout.
After another one-sided pep-talk, the home team responded, with freshman Reese Devilbiss (17 kills, 11 digs, three blocks) pounding home kills on three of the final four points, including the match-winner.
"Everybody wants to go for the big one at the end," Devilbiss said. "Especially against your rival. (But) I just tried to go and keep it in play. It was a good way to end the night."
With both teams highly ranked in the latest Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association polls (Northeastern was No. 1 in Class AA; Central was No. 3 in Class AAA), the match definitely lived up to the hype.
As good as the play seemed throughout the contest, however, both coaches felt their respective teams could play even better.
"We wanted to try to block Braswell and we wanted to try to block Devilbiss and we couldn't do either one," Central coach Brad Livingston said. "And that was the driving factor of the game."
Wilson would have liked to see his team respond better defensively, and gave the Panthers (10-1) credit for keeping a number of balls in play that seemed destined for the floor.
"They played a fantastic defense," he said. "Far better than us for the majority of that match. They were able to hang around with their defense a little bit, but I thought we turned it around there in that third game."
Both setters had a busy night because of the bevy of hitters available for each team. Northeastern's Luke Braswell dished out 51 assists while Central's Dylan Hose tallied 35 assists to go with 15 kills.
While the Bobcats walked away with the victory Thursday night, there remains a high probability that the two teams will battle each other in a mere five days. That showdown would come in the York-Adams League Tournament championship game at Dallastown High School next Tuesday.
Wilson, for one, knows that winning the regular-season contest doesn't necessarily mean the outcome will be the same come the finals, if both teams advance that far.
"It was two years ago where they beat us at their place and we won the next week," he said. "And I'll be reminding them that it's hard to pull off the double-play, so the speak."
While the Panthers were clearly disappointed to go home without a title, Livingston didn't try to play psychiatrist with them. His advice was short and simple.
"Learn from it, move on, and see you at practice tomorrow," Livingston said.
Offensively, the Panthers were led by Royce Clemens, who finished with 23 kills, while Josh Van Wyk and Ryan Gardner each tallied nine kills.
Malik Jefferson registered 11 kills for the Bobcats, while newly-minted libero Matt Hollinger picked up 18 digs to go with four assists.
OTHER BOYS' VOLLEYBALL
EASTERN YORK 3, NEW OXFORD 0: At Wrightsville, Sandon Eaton led the Golden Knights to a 25-17, 25-16, 25-22 victory with 12 kills, eight digs and three aces. Austin Miller (28 assists, six digs), Mike Bair (13 digs, six kills, four blocks) and Elliot Royce (four kills, three blocks) also excelled for the Knights. For the Colonials, Tyler Steckbeck had nine kills and six digs, while Ross Starner had seven digs, three kills and three blocks. Eastern won the JV match, 25-21, 26-24.
-- Reach Ryan Vander sloot at sports@yorkdis patch.com.