HERSHEY — Every time he’s pressed for an answer, York Country Day’s Jordan Ray can’t come up with one.
He doesn’t know why he feels the second of the Greyhounds' back-to-back District 3 Class 1-A boys’ basketball titles is sweeter than the first — it just is.
Maybe it was the pressure of trying to deliver a title with a target on the team's back as defending champ. Maybe it was the fact that some even dismissed last season’s accomplishments as a possible fluke. Or maybe it was the road that they had to travel to repeat — one that saw a schedule with more tough early-season, out-of-conference tests. Added adversity came in the form of a midseason head coaching change.
No matter the reason, Ray’s motivation was evident Thursday at Hershey’s Giant Center. The senior erupted for a game-high 39 points as the No. 1 Greyhounds (19-4) defeated No. 2 Lancaster County Christian (20-5), 85-58.
“The second one,” Ray said. “I don’t know, people keep asking me, I don’t know. It’s just in my head that the second one is sweeter. It just feels good that we can prove that we can do it twice.”
Ray proclaimed the game “over” after the Greyhounds completed a 13-0 run to start the third quarter that pushed York Country Day’s lead to from 36-31 to 49-31.
The scoring spree was powered by the Greyhound standout duo of Ray and DeAireus Brown. Ray opened the quarter by knocking down the fifth of his seven 3-pointers, and Brown finished it with a highlight basket.
Brown drove hard down the left side of the lane, took off toward the basket and had the ball cocked back for a dunk attempt, before absorbing contact from the Lions’ Max Gehman. Brown altered course mid-air and was able to tip the ball in as the whistle blew. As the crowd celebrated the foul and the basket, Ray turned toward the crowd and made his proclamation.
“We just woke up,” Brown said “That’s really all it was. We just started off slow and that’s something we had trouble with last season. It’s something that’s hard for us to break. But once we start working and once we start playing our game, we’re unstoppable.”
Raising the defensive intensity: Ray scored five points during the run and Brown dropped in six of his 29 points during that stretch. Brown would score 13 points total in a third quarter when the Greyhounds put the game away by outscoring the Lions 25-9.
“Defensive intensity,” Ray responded when asked what coach Chris Charleston focused on during halftime. “We know we can score the basketball. Buckets will come at will, but when we pick up our defensive intensity, stop them from making shots, box out and rebound, the sky is the limit.”
The five-point halftime lead was still a bit concerning.
“We weren’t playing our style of basketball yet,” Charleston said of close first half. “We weren’t getting turnovers, we weren’t getting to the rim enough, so we addressed that at halftime. Told them ‘Hey, for the next 16 minutes, we need to dominate the basketball game.’ And we came out the in third right away, got aggressive, got some stops, got some transition opportunities and the lead just exploded from there.”
Experience on the big Giant Center floor was also a key for YCD.
“Being comfortable,” Ray credited for his sharp-shooting performance. “Last year, I didn’t take one three-point shot on this court, I was so scared of the depth perception and looking behind the rim. And when I stepped on the court today, it just felt completely different.”
With just under two minutes to go, Ray would exit the game, share a lengthy embrace with Charleston and watch the final moments before erupting in celebration.
Jalen Gorham scored 13 points for the Greyhounds. Next up for the Greyhounds is a PIAA 1-A tournament opener against the third-place team from District 1 on Friday, March 10 at a site and time to be determined.
Even in the midst of all the celebrating, Charleston was quick to turn his focus on the next task at hand.
“We need to do a little better job on our half-court defense,” Charleston said. “If we continue to get better defensively, that’s our big key. I think we can go, hopefully, deep here in the state tournament.”
Reach Elijah Armold at email@example.com.