Central York, Red Lion both make statements in boys' basketball division opener

The Panthers held on for a 61-58 home victory Tuesday night, but the Lions didn't make it easy.

Thomas Kendziora
York Dispatch

The first night of York-Adams League division basketball games arrived amid swirling winds of optimism and uncertainty. While teams across the association saw a path to success with their returning talent, there are never any sure things before the pivotal games begin.

Perhaps no such collision Tuesday exemplified this dynamic as well as the boys’ game between Red Lion and Central York. The Lions were two-time defending Division I champions but had four new starters and only one senior. The host Panthers returned as much talent and carried as much size as anyone in the league, but their lineup remained heavy on underclassmen.

These assets and hindrances coalesced into a thrilling basketball game. Central York raced out to a double-digit advantage in the first quarter and led nearly the entire night. Every time the Panthers appeared to be pulling away, however, Red Lion kept the game within reach. The Lions even claimed the lead in the final minutes, only for Central to squeak out a 61-58 victory.

“That was a hard-fought game, and any win against Red Lion is outstanding,” Panthers coach Jeff Hoke said. “They’re disciplined and they play hard, so anytime you play a team like that, they’re always going to be in the game.”

Central York's Greg Guidinger gets over resistance from J. P. McCaskey's Jared Kumah during action at Central Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. Central cruised to a 89-63 win. Bill Kalina photo

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Central York had the headlining talent. Last year’s Panthers were 10-2 with 6-foot-7 forward Greg Guidinger in the lineup and 1-9 while he was injured. The junior returned alongside 6-8 sophomore Ben Rill — who returned home after playing at a charter school last year — giving Central two Division I prospects in the frontcourt. Sophomore Ben Natal and senior Ethan Dodson could be next-level guards as well. 

Natal led the Panthers (2-1, 1-0) with 17 points, including 12 in the first half. Dodson and Guidinger each added 16. But Rill was hit in the nose in the first quarter and didn’t return to the game, forcing Central York to play a smaller lineup with which Red Lion could match up more easily. Although the hosts held leads of 18-7 in the first quarter and 32-22 in the second, head coach Steve Schmehl’s Lions were back within 36-31 by halftime.

“After the first quarter, we lost our discipline in running things the way we run it, and that kind of gave them the confidence to play with us,” Hoke said. “They played hard. Red Lion will always play you to the last second, and that’s Coach Steve (Schmehl) right there.”

Joe Sedora led all scorers with 22 points and made four 3-pointers, while Chris Williams tallied 20 points on 10 field goals for the Lions (2-3, 0-1). When Red Lion fell behind by double digits once again in the third quarter, the tandem provided the necessary buckets. Central’s lead was 52-49 through three quarters, but Sedora’s floater with 2:13 remaining gave the Lions a 58-57 lead. They took that advantage into the final minute.

“Our guys came in tonight and we were prepared. We were ready to go,” Schmehl said. “We believed we could win — I don’t know if anybody else did, but we did — and we almost pulled it off.”

Red Lion Head Coach Steve Schmehl during YAIAA boys' semifinal action against Eastern York at York County School of Technology in York Township, Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2022. Eastern York would win the game 46-45 in double overtime. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Guidinger hit two free throws with 52 seconds left to put the Panthers up 59-58, and Sedora’s open 3-pointer on the ensuing possession fell short. After Dodson hit two free throws, Red Lion needed a triple to tie. A last-second scramble resulted in an open look, but Williams’ shot from the corner went just wayward.

Red Lion, after going 13-1 in division games last year, is off to an 0-1 start. And yet, this result could ultimately be a confidence boost. The Lions showed they won’t back down from anyone, even on the road and even after falling behind by double digits. While these players may not have been in the spotlight itself, they’ve seen success and learned what it takes.

“We’ve been in a lot of close games and been able to win over the last couple of years in big games,” Schmehl said. “And I think that belief came out a little bit, even though we have a totally new team and a lot of young guys. This was good for us, even though it was a tough one to swallow.”

Central York, meanwhile, showed that it has the resilience to pair with its talent. Hoke saw an incomplete performance — his team didn’t shoot well, committed turnovers and missed defensive assignments — but he also saw a team that found a way to win without Rill in the middle. Matthew Parker came off the bench and grabbed key rebounds, while Guidinger shifted positions and still produced at a high level.

The Panthers’ top six includes four sophomores, a junior and a senior. This group played together sparingly in the summer and fall, and it’s still only three games into the winter season. As that continuity builds, however, it’s easy to wonder just how many more gears Central can reach.

“I think as the season goes along, we’ll get exponentially better,” Hoke said. “This is a great start.”