York High boys' basketball coach Troy Sowers wanted to make it known that the sky is not falling on his Bearcat program.
Through eight games of the 2015-16 season, York High was just 5-3, with all three losses coming at home against three tough opponents.
The Bearcats, the cream of the crop in the York-Adams League and in District 3-AAAA in recent years, still lacked a signature performance about a third of the way through this season.
That was, until Wednesday night, when they welcomed unbeaten and high-scoring Northeastern into town. York High jumped out to an 11-1 advantage, opened up a lead as large as 22, and never let the Bobcats (7-1) get in front, handing Northeastern its first defeat, 78-67.
"Going into last night (against Dallastown) and also before the game today, I think we've been taking some things for granted just because we're York High," Sowers said. "...I thought we came hungry — hungrier than we've looked all year — and I thought we shared the ball, especially in the first half and in transition, and I thought we just played with a lot more effort tonight."
The victory didn't come without some tense moments. The Bobcats erased the large first-half advantage that the Bearcats (6-3) built, eventually trimming it down to as little as three by the end of the third quarter, thanks to a 23-13 edge in the period. But, like most York High teams of past years, this year's squad responded to the adversity, opening the final quarter on an 11-6 run to regain an eight-point lead and ease the tension that was building throughout the gym.
"I knew a run was coming," Sowers said about Northeastern's explosive third quarter. "Because if we're down 22, we're going to get a run and that's just the way it is with teams that can score at the pace that we can normally score."
The Bobcats entered the match-up averaging 80.3 points per game, far and away the best scoring offense in the Y-A League. The 67 points was the team's second-lowest output on the year and just the second time all season it failed to crack at least 70 points.
The Bearcats are still searching for their identity, but like to run up and down the floor and play up-tempo, forcing the hand of the opposition. However, going up against a Northeastern squad that could match it shot for shot and point for point, York High knew that defense was going to be more of a priority than usual.
"(Defense) was our main focus coming into the game," senior Trey Shifflett said. "We knew they liked to run and I knew they weren't expecting our 3-2 (zone defense) when they first came out and that slowed them down a lot."
Eventually, when the Bobcats did figure it out after halftime, it forced the Bearcats to rely on their offense to pull them back out of the funk. Much of that hinged on the shoulders of Jacquez Casiano, who led all scorers in the game with 21 points. Whenever York High needed a bucket to slow down Northeastern's momentum, he delivered.
"We make sure we play all 32 minutes," Casiano said. "Because that run didn't finalize the game. We kept pushing until the game was at zero."
Casiano got help on the offensive end, with three other Bearcats scoring in double figures. Montrel Morgan had 14, Shifflett finished with 13 and Jaser Drayden had 11 crucial points off the bench.
For the Bobcats, Donovian Maxfield matched Casiano's output with 21 points. Kobi Nwandu continued his strong start to the year, finishing with 18, including nine in the fourth quarter, and Jeff Reynolds finished with 10.
For Northeastern, this is the second straight year it began the season with a long winning streak. While it doesn't compare to last year's 17-0 start, the question remains the same after Wednesday's defeat — how will the team respond to its first loss?
As for York High, nothing gets easier from here. The Bearcats always play a tough non-conference schedule in the hopes that it will prepare them for playoff time, and right now, they're in the middle of that gauntlet, with tough games to come in the near future.
"Our goal is to always be ready by February and March and get better as the year goes on," Sowers said. "And I think we got better tonight and we haven't accomplished anything yet. It's still the regular season, but I think we got better tonight."
Spring Grove 71, New Oxford 53: At Spring Grove, like many teams, the Colonials had a hard time stopping the Rockets’ Eli Brooks, who poured in 36 points to lead his team to victory. Darin Gordon (10) and Grant Wierman (12) joined Brooks in double digits. Three Colonials cracked the 10-point mark, led by Devon Duvall’s 23 points. New Oxford also got 12 points from Ben Lehman and 11 from Justin Gruver. Spring Grove improved to 4-1 overall and in York-Adams Division I.
West York 45, Trinity 43: At Trinity, Morgan Bamberger scored a game-high 17 points as the Bulldogs held off a late comeback attempt by their hosts. Angie Hawkins chipped in nine points for West York, which built a 32-23 lead after three quarters. Cassie White led all Trinity scorers with 15 points. West York improved to 6-3. Trinity fell to 1-6.
Northeastern 54, Bermudian Springs 27: At Manchester, the Bobcats took a commanding 18-7 lead at the end of the first quarter and never looked back. Kendra Meyer led the Bobcats with a game-high 23 points, including five from 3-point range.. Teammate Jordyn Kloster knocked in 22, including three from behind the arc.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org