HERSHEY — Central's boys' basketball team never saw the heartbreaking ending coming on Tuesday night.
The Panthers defense locked down Cedar Crest for three quarters and appeared on their way to the District 3 Class AAAA championship game.
Central carried what appeared to be a comfortable 13-point lead into the final quarter, but the advantage evaporated during a furious Cedar Crest rally.
The Falcons tied the game on Nick Miller's driving layup with 16.5 seconds to play, and following a Central turnover, Cedar Crest was awarded the ball under the Central basket with just 1.7 seconds remaining on the clock.
The Falcons' Evan Horn fired a long pass that 6-6 teammate Andrew Eudy leaped and grabbed just inside the foul line at the other end of the court.
Eudy turned, took one dribble and laid the ball into the basket as the final horn sounded.
Cedar Crest 49, Central 47.
"There were a couple of things we could have done differently on that in-bounds play, but that was a great play, a very athletic play by a great basketball player," Central head coach Kevin Schieler said.
Eudy's winning basket closed out a quarter during which the Falcons outscored the Panthers, 23-8. The Lancaster-Lebanon League champions, after settling mostly for jump shots in the first three quarters, attacked the basket in the closing quarter. The exception was Zach Gristick, who helped fuel the comeback by knocking down two 3-point shots.
Central, which had just one turnover in the third quarter, committed seven turnovers in the last quarter, and it connected on just four of eight attempts at the foul line.
Cedar Crest, by contrast, made only one turnover in the fourth quarter, and it connected on nine of 12 foul shots.
"They got to the rim nicely (in the fourth quarter), and they're a great foul-shooting team," Schieler said. "We didn't get the stops we needed."
Cedar Crest's intensity picked up at both ends of the floor in the fourth quarter.
"They stopped being aggressive on the offensive end, and we started becoming aggressive," Falcons head coach Tom Smith said.
"We had a sense of urgency to get to the basket and the foul line."
Miller led the winners with 12 points. Eudy finished with seven points, but he had the biggest bucket of the night.
"I didn't want to take a jump shot," Eudy said. "So, I decided to take it to the rim.
"We knew we had to come back (in the fourth quarter). We wanted to make school history (first appearance in the Class AAAA title game)."
Central's Sam Saxton led all scorers with 19 points and Andrew Sauers supplied 10 for the Panthers, who came into the semifinal riding an 18-game winning streak. Central's Charlie Gingrich, who entered the game averaging more than 10 points a game, played sparingly due to foul trouble.
The Panthers, who hoped to play in Saturday's championship game, instead will take on Hershey in the third-place game on Thursday at a site and time to be determined.
"We'll wake up tomorrow, and we'll have to be ready to go (at practice)," said Schieler who had a short post-game meeting.
"There is not a lot to say. They're (the players) are beat up like I am."
— Reach Dick VanOlinda at email@example.com.