Central York boys' basketball tops York High, 67-64, in overtime classic
Central York boys’ basketball coach Jeff Hoke has harped throughout the season that his team’s inexperience can’t be an excuse. The Panthers have no seniors in their current rotation, but their depth of talent has put a target on their backs on a nightly basis.
They were certainly thrown into the fire Friday night at York High. Right into a rivalry game with first place in York-Adams Division I up for grabs. They were met with the most raucous atmosphere anyone on the bench could imagine, a double-digit halftime deficit, a frenzied finish to regulation and a roller coaster of an extra period.
But the Panthers pounced on their opportunity, and when all was said and done, they came home with a 67-64 overtime victory. Central York completed a season sweep of the Bearcats and put itself on the inside track to capture the division title.
“There’s no better place in York County basketball (than) playing here on a Friday night. It was insane,” Hoke said after the game. “And our kids lived up to the hype, and so did York.”
It was a three-act drama worthy of Broadway consideration. York High came out firing and took a 34-22 lead into the locker room. Central York delivered a counterpunch, closing the gap to one point through three quarters and pulling ahead by as many as seven in the fourth. The Bearcats quickly leveled the score back up, setting the stage for a back-and-forth thriller that was in doubt until the final buzzer in overtime.
Junior Greg Guidinger led the Panthers (12-5, 8-1) with 22 points, 16 of which came after halftime. Ben Natal notched 21, while fellow sophomore Ben Rill finished with 16. The trio had every Central York point until late in the third quarter, but a cadre of young role players — sophomores Saxton Suchanic and Matthew Parker and freshmen Ryan Brown and Brooklyn Nace — made enough plays to push the team over the line.
“We’ve got seven great guys,” the 6-foot-7 Guidinger said, “and them going to work early opens up things for me. Ben Natal had a great first half; if he wasn’t doing the things he did, I wouldn’t have gotten the same looks in the second half that I did. So it’s a team effort.”
Sophomore Daveyon Lydner and junior Juelz Tucker scored 19 and 17 points, respectively, for York High (11-4, 6-2). Sophomore David Warde added 11 points and senior big man Omarion Newson chipped in eight.
After Central York scored the first basket of the night, the Bearcats responded with nine straight, forcing a Panthers timeout. The lead was 16-10 after the first quarter and went up to nine when Lydner started the second period with a triple. Then came a flurry late in the frame — Lydner followed a smooth layup with a breakaway dunk off a turnover, and another steal led to Tucker’s layup and the 34-22 advantage.
But the mood shifted coming out of the break, as York High’s sloppy play allowed Central York to start the third quarter on a 13-2 run. The Bearcats went back up by seven, but led just 45-44 entering the fourth and found themselves trailing after Natal and Suchanic delivered quick buckets for the Panthers. Nace’s floater made it 53-46 with 4:36 remaining and stretched the visitors’ run to 15-1.
Just 83 seconds later, Warde’s corner 3-pointer tied the game and sent the home crowd into a frenzy. The teams went back and forth down the stretch, with Guidinger hitting two free throws to ultimately force overtime. It was still tied with a minute left in overtime before Rill’s layup and Suchanic’s breakaway gave Central a two-possession lead. Warde drained another 3 to keep the fans in their seats, and a chaotic Panthers possession ended with Brown at the line.
The freshman was forced into the rotation when senior Ethan Dodson broke his wrist against Father Judge on Dec. 17. His first action came in the Panthers’ 68-65 win over York High on Dec. 20. Nothing could have prepared him for this moment, with opposing fans shouting and banging on bleachers in a one-point game. But Brown, unfazed by it all, drained both.
“RB, he’s a varsity starter. He’s not a freshman no more,” Guidinger said. “So we expect him, even in the biggest moments of the game, to step up and knock those down. And he knew that too, and so (it’s) just instilling that confidence. I’m so proud of him because he’s come such a long way.”
York High still had two more chances, as Rill missed a pair of free throws in between, but Tucker just came up empty both times. The junior was inconsolable as the teams shook hands in the aftermath of the unforgettable thriller.
The Bearcats will have to flush the loss quickly, as they host Chester at 5 p.m. Saturday. Central York will host Central Dauphin on Monday before division games continue Tuesday.
Three wins stand between the Panthers and an outright division crown, and the challenges will come from the bottom three in the standings. Hoke, of course, knows better than to get ahead of himself — eight of Central York’s nine division games have been decided by single digits, and it’s always hard to beat quality teams twice.
“It’s a great league, it’s a well-coached league, everybody knows everybody and the players know each other too … they know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Hoke said. “It’s gonna play out. Nothing’s over yet. Every night is gonna be a tough night.”
Friday may have been the toughest — and most satisfying — night of them all.