HERSHEY — For the first three quarters, it was a knock-down, back-and-forth slugfest between a pair of boys' basketball teams that originally were long shots to reach this year's District 3-AAAA semifinals.
Yet there they were Tuesday night at Hershey's Giant Center, No. 8-seeded York High battling No. 12 Hershey. The Bearcats led by a point after the opening quarter, by three points at halftime and by a point at the end of three quarters. There were a total of nine lead changes to that point. But York High ultimately pulled away in the fourth quarter, limiting Hershey to just six points in the final eight minutes to come away with a 69-58 win.
With the victory, York High (21-6) moves on to Saturday's title game at 1 p.m. at Hershey's Giant Center, where the Bearcats will face Lancaster-Lebanon League champion Cedar Crest (25-4). It marks the fourth time in the last six seasons York High has reached the district title game. The Bearcats last won the district title in 2011.
"It's a big deal for us," York High sophomore wing player Kristopher Johnson said. "We lost in the county (York-Adams League) championship. We got five or six losses on the year. It's just a big, tremendous opportunity to get back here from where we came from."
Hershey entered Tuesday coming off a pair of upsets in the district tournament, beating No. 6 Harrisburg and No. 4 Reading. York High has now knocked off No. 9 McCaskey, top-seeded Wilson and No. 12 Hershey (17-8) en route to Saturday's title game. And the Bearcats have done so mostly with a young cast of characters. There are five seniors on the roster, but none start and only two see significant action off the bench.
"I told the guys before tonight you never know when you get opportunities in life, you have to make the most of them," York High coach Troy Sowers said. "We lost about 56 points of offense to graduation. I said, 'Where do you guys want to be at the end of the season?' I'm just proud of our guys."
Johnson was one of those youngsters who stepped up Tuesday night, although it might be hard to call the 6-foot, 5-inch sophomore a youngster. Johnson knocked down five 3-pointers on his way to a game-high and career-high 19 points.
"Best game of the season by far," Johnson said when asked where his performance stacks up in his career. "Coach said go out there and do what I do. 'You're a good shooter. Have confidence.' "
It was Johnson's steal and emphatic dunk on the other end in the final minute of action that helped cap off Tuesday's win. But it was also the performance of teammate Jahaire Wilson playing the role of closer in the fourth quarter, where the 6-foot-3 junior forward scored eight of his 18 points, including a baseline dunk that put his squad up eight with 1:50 left.
Wilson was a factor on the defensive end, often fronting and attempting to keep Hershey's 6-foot-5 center Chase Watkins from the basket. Watkins, who came in averaging 15.4 points a game, tallied 17 points Tuesday, but managed just a layup and one-of-two shooting from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter. Hershey also had a 6-foot-8 forward in sophomore Dylan Painter, but he was held to two points in the second half after posting 11 in the first half.
Hershey shot just 2 of 9 from the floor in the fourth quarter after making 62.5 percent of its attempts in the first three quarters.
York High sophomores Brandon Smallwood (11 points) and Trey Shifflett (12 points) also finished in double-digit scoring.
—Reach John Walk at email@example.com.