When Northeastern made the jump from Division II to Division I in boys' basketball before this season, everyone knew it was going to make the top division in the York-Adams League that much more competitive.
The addition took a perennially strong program and added it to a division that already possessed teams such as Central York, York High, Dallastown and Eli Brooks-led Spring Grove. The only concern may have been that the abundance of high-quality programs in one division would lead to a situation where they beat up on each other, hurting their overall records. It could also leave us with a muddled picture as to who the top teams actually were.
That was hardly the issue over the course of the regular season, however. The Bobcats raced out to a 17-0 start en route to a 20-2 record and the Division I crown. The Rockets showed they were more than just Brooks by giving Northeastern a challenge for the division title, ultimately settling for second. The Panthers, despite significant losses from last year's District 3 Class 4-A runner-up team, found their stride late in the year and pulled off two big road wins over Northeastern and Spring Grove to separate themselves from the rest of Division I and grab the No. 3 seed for the league tournament.
In an alternate world, you could argue that any of those three teams would win any of the other two divisions, or at the very least, give York Catholic a contest in Division III. We live in reality, however, and that wasn't the case. So, with the league tournament beginning this past Friday, it was time for the D-I powers to flex their muscles and prove that, regardless of what their seed was in the field of eight, they were among the best in the league overall.
And flex those muscles they did.
All three D-I teams advanced into Wednesday's semifinal round, doing so in relatively comfortable fashion. Northeastern rolled past Littlestown, 79-41. Spring Grove used a hot start to the second half to finish off Delone Catholic, 64-42. And Central York held a pretty good offensive team in Division II champion Dover to just 52 points in its 69-52 victory. That's an average margin of victory of 25.7 points per game.
What it also did was guarantee that at least one D-I team will play for the league championship on Friday night, with the Rockets and Panthers squaring off in one of the semifinals on Wednesday night at Red Lion. Northeastern faces York Catholic in the other semifinal.
What's scarier is that all three D-I rivals may have just created a new tier of elite programs within the entire league. This is the second consecutive year that the Bobcats, Rockets and Panthers are all back in the semifinal round. For so long, the league was dominated by York High, but that program is going through a bit of a rebuild. The Bearcats just completed its first year under head coach Clovis Gallon while also trying to restock the talent pool.
As a result, there needed to be another team or two willing to take the torch from the Bearcats.
Once Brooks leaves for Michigan, it's hard to see Spring Grove continuing its recent string of success, so the Rockets might get replaced by someone else next year among the D-I elite. Or maybe not. Who knows?
However, you can expect Northeastern to be back in this same spot next year with its two leading scorers, Antonio Rizzuto and Fred Mulbah, both returning as seniors. Plus the Bobcats boast a group of underclassmen who have played significant roles this year, and they should only getting better.
As for Central York, well, that program has proven that, regardless of what it does or doesn't have, under head coach Kevin Schieler, you can never count it out of contending for a league crown.
The D-III-champion Fighting Irish, with their 21-game winning streak, is the only other team left in the boys' field. They're the only hope the league has of preventing a D-I program from winning the league championship for a sixth consecutive season. Even York Catholic, which has as much talent and depth as any team in the Y-A League, regardless of division, might not have what it takes to knock off Northeastern on Wednesday night and prevent an all-D-I showdown for the title.
It's fitting that D-I has been so dominant over the years and is doing so again. After all, those schools are the largest in the league in terms of enrollment and thus have the biggest talent pool to draw players from. Doing something with that talent, however, is much easier said than done.
Only the strong survive postseason play and, right now, that looks like it will be a D-I team — again.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org