With the District 3 basketball playoffs kicking off in less than a week, there’s plenty of excitement in the York-Adams area.
There are 23 area programs who made the field (boys and girls), and more than half of them have earned top-four seeds in the draw.
In a bit of a change, the local schools are among the favorites in the big-school divisions — at least according to the power ratings used to determine the seedings.
A pair of perennial powers, however, will face major challenges in their attempts continue their District 3 title runs. The Bearcats (12-10) have won the past two District 3-AAAA championships, but enter this year as the No. 10 seed. The Fighting Irish (18-5) have won 10 straight District 3-AA crowns, but will enter the bracket as the No. 3 seed.
Let’s break down some of the more interesting news from the tournament, which begins Friday evening with play-in games.
Class AAAA boys: The most impressive bracket locally is, without a doubt, the Class AAAA boys’ draw. For the first time ever, the York-Adams League has earned three of the top four seeds in the big-school bracket. Division I champion Central York earned the No. 1 seed, while Division II champion Northeastern claimed the No. 3 seed. Spring Grove, the runner-up behind Central York in Division I, claimed the No. 4 seed.
Two other schools — York High (No. 10) and Red Lion (No. 17) — will join those three programs in the draw.
The good news for the local teams is that a first-round victory clinches a PIAA berth. A loss, however, ends the season abruptly.
“The District 3-AAA tournament is as tough as it gets,” York High coach Troy Sowers said. “We have to travel to Carlisle to play a very good team in their gym. This is always the scariest game of the season because the loser has their season end. The winner gets three more district games and a state playoff berth. The risk/reward is at its highest in the first district game for us.”
If the Bearcats can find a way to get past the Thundering Herd in the first round, they will have a chance to avenge some previous setbacks. No. 2 seed Reading (18-3), a top-10 team in the state according to Pennlive.com and a team that defeated York 76-57 earlier in the season, would most likely be there in the second round.
Beyond that, a possible semifinal showdown with No. 3 Northeastern, which just rolled Sowers’ team 76-47 in the league playoffs, could be next. Then, perhaps in the finals, either Spring Grove or Central York could be waiting — teams that both defeated York twice this season.
“Tough games ahead if we win at Carlisle,” said Sowers, who has guided York to the PIAA playoffs seven years in a row.
Class AAAA girls: Not far behind the boys’ Class AAAA bracket is the girls’ AAAA draw in which half of the top-four seeds are from the York-Adams League. Division I champion Red Lion drew the No. 3 seed, while Division I runner-up Central York is right behind them at No. 4. Both the Lions and Panthers split their regular-season meetings.
While Red Lion and Central can feel good about claiming top seeds, the AAAA bracket on the girls’ side is no cupcake. The top two seeds, No. 1 Cumberland Valley (18-2) and No. 2 Governor Mifflin (21-1), are both ranked in the top 10 in the state by Pennlive.com. Red Lion just cracked into the rankings this week at the No. 10 spot.
“Clearly our focus will be on our first-round match-up with either Hempfield or Wilson,” Central York coach Scott Wisner said. “With seven AAAA berths into states, a win in round one gets you real close to that. If we are fortunate enough to advance, we’ll prepare fully for each opponent with the goal to get at least one more win to qualify for states.”
Wisner knows that while his Panthers and the Lions are contenders for the title, the Eagles from Cumberland Valley, the two-time defending state champions, will be a big obstacle to overcome.
“Cumberland Valley has the best starting five in the district,” Wisner said. “They may not be as deep as they were the past two years, but with the Jekots (Kate and Kelly), they’re very tough.”
Class AA Girls: A lot of intrigue surrounds the District 3-AA girls’ bracket. Neither York Catholic nor Delone Catholic are among the top-two seeds this year, giving the draw a strange feel. The Squirettes (three) and the Irish (the past 10) have won the last 13 titles in this bracket. This year, Camp Hill is No. 1 and Wyomissing is No. 2.
“I think the youthfulness of our team caused us to be lower seeded that normal,” York Catholic coach Kevin Bankos said. “But, in reality, a top-four seed to me is a priority more so than who is on what side (of the bracket).”
Could this be the year someone else breaks the stranglehold of the York-area parochial powers?
Possibly. That chance took a big hit after a loss by Linden Hall this past Thursday to Steel-High. That setback averted a potential quarterfinal meeting between York Catholic and Delone.
The Rollers’ victory knocked Linden Hall, who was sitting at No. 3, down to the No. 5 seed, with the Irish (No. 3) and Squirettes (No. 4) moving up a spot.
“If Steel-High didn’t beat Linden Hall, we would have faced Delone first,” said a clearly relieved Bankos. “That would have meant that one of us wasn’t going to states for sure. But it worked out.”
Class AAA boys: Much like the York High boys’ team, the West York boys’ squad has faced a lot of quality foes this season. Facing them and beating them are two different things, however, and the tough schedule has Coach Bill Ackerman’s team sitting with the No 8 seed in the AAA draw. They will play host to No. 9 Berks Catholic in the first round.
Ackerman is cautiously optimistic about his team’s chances to earn a PIAA berth.
“I think our difficult schedule has us battle-tested,” he said. “Half of our eight losses have come at the hands of top-10 ranked teams in AAAA (Northeastern, Central York, J.P. McCaskey and York High). But we are familiar with Berks Catholic having played them the last two years in districts. Playing them again obviously represents a heck of a challenge but we will embrace it and hopefully take advantage of the opportunity given to us.”
Class A boys: One other bracket to look at would be the Class A boys’ draw. The York area has won the past two titles –— New Hope Academy (2014) and Hilda Goodling Impact Academy (2015) — with a third one within reach. Both New Hope and Hilda Goodling closed shortly after winning their titles, leaving the door open for a new team.
That team appears to be York County Day (19-0), the only remaining unbeaten team in District 3. The Greyhounds are led by a terrific trio of Jordan Ray, D.J. Hamilton and DeAireus Brown, who are all underclassmen. Both Brown and Hamilton transferred to YCD this year after previously going to Northeastern.
Unlike the previous two champions in the bracket, YCD will almost certainly be a lock as a contender next season. That’s something that brings a lot of excitement, and hopefully, higher expectations to the program.
“I was thinking District 3 championship and state championships on the line,” Ray said to the York Dispatch earlier this season in regards to the arrivals of Brown and Hamilton. “The future is bright for us.”