Every area team dreamed of this week before the basketball season began.
The District 3 Championships have arrived at the Giant Center.
While every team had visions of playing on the big court in Hershey, fighting for a district title, that reality came true for only five of them — the Northeastern (5-A) and York Country Day (1-A) boys and the Susquehannock (5-A), York Catholic (3-A) and Delone Catholic (3-A) girls.
Here’s a brief preview of each of the four title contests involving those squads:
Boys' 5-A — No. 1 Northeastern (26-2) vs. No. 2 Mechanicsburg (22-5), 8:30 p.m. Friday: In addition to being exceptionally talented and deep, the Bobcats have one more thing going for them this year — motivation.
A season ago, after winning the York-Adams Division II title en route to a No. 3 seed in the District 3 4-A playoffs, Northeastern was quickly eliminated from the district playoffs in the first round, abruptly ending a dream season.
That disappointment stuck in the heads of the Bobcats for nearly an entire year. Now the York-Adams League champions are determined make amends while reaching their full potential.
Powered by a devastating 1-2-3 trio of Antonio Rizzuto (19.4 ppg), Fred Mulbah (16.3 ppg) and Brandon Coleman (14.2 ppg), Northeastern has run over nearly every team they’ve faced so far this season. The Bobcats average 72.5 points a contest, tops in the York-Adams League. Folks in the Manchester/Mount Wolf have definitely taken notice and have packed the local gyms nearly every time the Bobcats took to the court.
Now the team is after the program's first-ever district title.
While it’s the offense that generates the most attention (see Mulbah’s windmill dunk in Monday’s semifinal victory over Spring Grove), the key to coach Jon Eyster’s club right now is its motivation. That motivation helped the Bobcats earn an impressive 78-58 semifinal triumph over a Spring Grove club that features Michigan recruit Eli Brooks.
“This year we’re just going out as hard as we can,” Rizzuto said. “Having that (memory of last year) in the back of our heads will help us play better.”
To get there, they'll take on a scrappy Mechanicsburg side that enters Friday evening’s match-up on a bit of a tear. The Mid-Penn Keystone champs enter the contest as winners of 12 of their past 14 contests. That’s a hot streak that earned the Wildcats a berth in the Mid-Penn playoff championship game, which they dropped to State College.
If there’s one thing that worries Eyster this time of year, it’s size. While the Bobcats make up for a lack of size with athleticism, teams that feature big post players, such as Mechanicsburg’s 6-foot, 5-inch Cade Alioth (14.2 ppg), could pose big trouble inside.
Girls’ 5-A — No. 1 Harrisburg (21-3) vs No. 2 Susquehannock (22-3), 11 a.m. Saturday: The Susquehannock girls and the Northeastern boys actually have quite a bit in common.
After winning the Y-A Division II title a season ago and earning the No. 1 seed in the District 3 3-A playoffs, Susquehannock was upset in the first round by ELCO.
That’s a memory that none of the Glen Rock girls ever want to relive again. So coach Dave Schreiner and his crew got to work on paving the way for redemption. Through AAU practices and preseason scrimmages, through the Division II schedule and now through the District 3 playoffs, the Warriors are fueled by memories from a season ago.
That fuel has powered Susquehannock back to a District 3 title game for the third time in five seasons. Unlike the previous two occasions, the Warriors are planning on claiming the program’s first-ever District 3 title this time.
The Warriors feature a solid starting five but not much depth. Fortunately those starters are versatile enough to make up for a short bench. Tyler Williams, the lone senior on the squad, leads the team in scoring at 14.0 ppg, while sophomore Jaden Walker chips in 10.3 a contest. Guards Jayla Galbreath and Taylor Tannura run the offense, with forward Anna Mahan posing a critical inside-outside threat.
The Susquehannock starters played nearly every second of the club’s 48-25 semifinal triumph over Twin Valley Tuesday. If they can repeat that feat Saturday against the Cougars, the outcome will likely be positive. If they get into foul trouble, like they did in a first-round loss to New Oxford in the league playoffs, the third time might not be the charm for Schreiner and company.
Harrisburg features the young and talented 1-2 combo of sophomore Dajahnae Brannon (14.2 ppg) and junior Ahmya Woodyard (13.7 ppg). The Cougars like to play a more up-tempo style, so it will be interesting to see if Schreiner goes with that. or instead opts to play a zone, like his team did so effectively against Twin Valley.
Boys' 1-A — No. 1 York Country Day (18-4) vs. No. 2 Lancaster County Christian (20-4), 4:30 p.m. Thursday: While the Northeastern boys and Susquehannock girls are aiming to make up for last year’s mistakes, the Greyhounds are looking to repeat.
The program earned its first-ever District 3 title a season ago.
Senior standout Jordan Ray seems motivated to accomplish the team’s task. The Hampton football recruit led the Greyhounds with 32 points in the team’s 83-41 semifinal victory over Mount Calvary Monday. Afterward, he noted that a motivating factor for him was to prove that YCD’s district title a season ago was no fluke.
"I can't let anyone just deny me or the team or the fans from going to Hershey again,” Ray said. “We worked so hard throughout this season against tougher competition for moments like this.”
YCD will face a Lancaster County Christian squad that gives coach Chris Charleston some things to worry about.
"Lancaster County Christian is well-coached," Charleston said. "They do a lot of nice things. They're fundamentally sound, so we're going to have to make sure that we tighten some things up, especially on the defensive end, because they do such a nice job on the perimeter."
These two squads haven’t faced one another this year, but the Greyhounds did claim a convincing 60-32 triumph in last year’s district semifinals.
Girls' 3-A — No. 1 York Catholic (20-6) vs. No. 2 Delone Catholic (20-6), 6:15 p.m. Thursday: As soon as the PIAA expanded the classes in basketball from four to six last year, this match-up is the one everyone anticipated.
It’s one that figures to become a staple for years to come, if both remain in the 3-A draw.
The Irish and Squirettes have combined to capture 13 of the last 14 2-A titles. Delone won three in a row during the Meredith Cox era before York Catholic went on an unprecedented 10-year winning streak, which ended when Camp Hill downed YC last year.
The YC/DC rivalry has been fairly one-sided over the past decade. The Irish have claimed almost every big showdown with the Squirettes during that time, but almost all of those games have been close.
Coach Kevin Bankos’ club won both games this season (67-62 in OT and 47-46), but again, each showdown was closely contested.
York Catholic’s loss to the Lions in last year’s 2-A title game proved that no streak lives forever. Will this be the time coach Gerry Eckenrode’s squad finally figures out a way to get the best of York Catholic?
One intriguing aspect of this showdown is the status of Irish standout Kate Bauhof. One of the league’s top scoring threats, Bauhof (18.5 ppg) missed last Friday’s semifinal victory against Pequea Valley because of the flu.
Delone features an intimidating front line that measures 6-3 (Catie Apgar), 6-1 (Bradi Zumbrum) and 5-11 (Maddie Clabaugh). Zumbrum leads a balanced Delone attack at 11.0 ppg. Zumbrum (31 points, 12 rebounds) and Clabaugh (18 points, 10 rebounds) are coming off monster efforts in Friday's semifinal win over Middletown.
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.