Rockets and Panthers to meet, again

Patrick Strohecker
  • Central York is 2-1 against Spring Grove this season
  • The two teams have each scored 142 points against each other in the three meetings this season
  • The winner will represent York County in the District 3-AAAA title game for the fourth straight year

In a sport known for rematches, even some of the greatest boxing rivalries never made it to a fourth showdown.

Spring Grove's Eli Brooks, center, is the No. 5 recruit in Pennsylvania in the Class of 2017, according to

Typically, by the third, one fighter will have established himself as the best. But, those rivalries are planned events. They can be expected.

Basketball rematches? Not so much.

That's what makes Tuesday night's District 3-AAAA semifinal between Central York and Spring Grove so intriguing. It won't be the first time this season that the two York County foes face off. Nor will it be the second. Or the the third. It'll be showdown No. 4 between — two regular-season match-ups, the York-Adams League championship game and now in districts.

Only the first two were to be expected, penciled into the schedule a while back, since both teams compete in Division I of the Y-A League. If this seems odd, then you're not alone, because even Spring Grove head coach James Brooks thinks it's unlikely.

Chemistry gives Central winning formula

"Well, I thought playing Red Lion three times last year was pretty amazing," he said. "So, four is off the charts. I don't know of too many teams that have had to do that."

However, if you're a Central fan, then this isn't anything new. In fact, it should bring back memories from a year ago.

"I would typically say that it would be strange, but we did it with York High last year," Panthers' head coach Kevin Schieler said. "...We played York High in the league championship and in the district quarterfinals of last year, on top of our two regular-season meetings. But, I think it's a good sign for our league, because if we're playing that many times in a year, we're both having good years. So I think it's good for our league to have multiple teams winning like this late into the postseason."

If "Central vs. Spring Grove IV" means anything, it's that secrets are out the window. Between the first three meetings, and many of the players from the two teams playing with and against each other in AAU ball, familiarity is there. Spring Grove (24-2) knows that Central (22-3) likes to take 3-pointers and that it's essential to limit senior Jared Wagner. Meanwhile, the Panthers understand that you can't simply shut down junior Eli Brooks, you just hope to contain him. Of course, if any team knows the recipe to successfully knocking off Spring Grove, it's Central. After all, it's the only team to beat the Rockets this season, doing so twice in the regular season.

STROHECKER: Rockets not one-man gang

For anyone going into this one blind, just know this — defense will be the driving force for whoever earns the win and advances to Saturday's championship game. In the first three meetings, the winning team hasn't needed more than 53 points. Both times, that was the Panthers, claiming 53-50 victories during the regular season. However, in the league championship game, Spring Grove needed just 42 points to edge Central. That title game, which ended 42-36, was also the largest margin of victory in any of the three meetings this year, so expect the fourth installment to also come down to the final minute. And yes, based on those two scores, that does mean that the two sides are deadlocked in points scored in the three games at 142-142.

"I know one thing, both teams are going to play really hard," Brooks said. "So, I'm sure the defense will be there. Whoever's offense looks the best, performs the best and executes the best will probably come out on top."

Jared Wagner and Central York will look to get back to the championship game of the district tournament for the first time since 1984 when they face Spring Grove for the fourth time this year in Tuesday night's semifinal round.

One team will see its quest for a district title end. Still, just by having these two teams face each other in the semifinals, it means that for a fourth consecutive season, York County will be represented in the AAAA gold medal game. The previous three years, however, that honor was owned by York High, which was runner-up in 2012-13, but won back-to-back titles in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

So, for each team, this isn't just a chance to add more hardware to its school's trophy case, but also the chance to carry the torch for all of York County.

"It'd be tremendous for our program," Schieler said. "Central York basketball has only known one district title game, and it was in, I believe, the mid-80s (1984 to be exact), we lost in the district title and to the best of my knowledge, we haven't been back since. So, I think it would be absolutely tremendous if we can get a win on Tuesday night just to have a chance to compete next Saturday and have a chance to play in the Giant Center three times in one year I think would be all great things for our program."

Rockets capture first league title in 45 years

With the Panthers owning a 2-1 edge in the prior three games, a win on Tuesday night would clinch the season series for them and help wipe away any sour taste from the league championship loss.

For the Rockets, however, despite winning just one of the three games, they own the biggest of the match-ups. Now, it's about trying to level the score and looking to make it a double — winning gold in both the league and district tournaments.

If Spring Grove does win, then obviously there will need to be a fifth-and-deciding showdown to determine bragging rights for the year.

Can you say state tournament?

— Reach Patrick Strohecker at