All district tournament long, the script was the same for the Eastern York boys' basketball team.
The Golden Knights would fall behind, either right out of the gate or at some point in the second half, and have to fight its way back. Through the first three rounds, the Golden Knights always found a way to be the team that came out on top in the end.
However, facing the best defensive team it's seen all year, Eastern couldn't solve the inside presence of No. 3 seed Bishop McDevitt, both offensively and defensively, losing the District 3-AAA championship game, 71-47, at the Giant Center on Thursday night.
"We haven't played a kid as athletic as (James) Williams," Golden Knights head coach Jon Reichard said. "He stopped everything that we got. We got some good looks, made some nice passes, got the ball under the basket, and he erased it."
It was obvious right from the opening tip that Williams' length and athleticism was going to be a lot to handle for the Eastern offense. His presence inside, alone, forced the No. 4 seed Golden Knights (22-6) into altered shots, and once they realized going inside wasn't the best option, they had to settle for outside looks. By the time Reichard could call a timeout and settle down his team, Eastern already trailed 11-0. That, ultimately, was the most important period of the game.
"It was the same we did the other night, we got out to a bad start against Milton Hershey and we called the timeout when we felt we had to," Reichard said. "It's not like we didn't get some looks from where we wanted them to go, we just weren't expecting to have them erased like they were. At the beginning of the game, we were a little tentative and a little nervous, but it wasn't an excuse for us at any part."
That first opening run aside, Eastern stayed with the Crusaders (20-6) the rest of the first half. McDevitt carried a 30-19 lead into the halftime break, meaning the Golden Knights played the Crusaders even over the final 12 minutes of the half.
Unfortunately, when Eastern came out to begin the third quarter, easily its best quarter throughout the season, nothing materialized for it. A quick 9-3 run by McDevitt out of halftime quickly saw its lead balloon to 17 points, putting the Knights in a corner with very little room to escape.
"The third quarter's been our best all year and I thought we'd respond again," Reichard said. "We had a couple shots, took a couple shots, didn't get some things to go and they went on that run. ... When you go down by that many, they're not going to take a lot of bad shots, so they spread us out from that point on, so we had to chase, kids got tired and the scoreboard kind of stretched out on us."
Shimmel provides some spark: Eastern got outscored by 13 in the second half, but if there was one area where Reichard and the rest of the team could hold their heads high about, it was in the team's ability to play to the final horn. There was no give up from the Knights, especially from senior Colby Shimmel. Typically the first guy off the bench for Eastern, Shimmel is usually asked to do anything and everything necessary to help the team.
On Thursday, he was rewarded for a season of hard work, cracking double digits in points, finishing the game with 10 points and earning valuable minutes in a huge spot.
"It was a great experience for me, personally," Shimmel said. "But, when the team was down, I needed to step up somewhere — the team needed to step up — I was trying to provide a spark plug and get the team back on the winning track, but unfortunately, that didn't happen tonight."
The only other player for the Knights to crack double figures was senior Broguen Nicholas, who finished with 12 points.
No stopping Williams: Meanwhile, Williams wasn't just a beast on the defensive end. He finished the night with a game-high 21 points and finished a block away from a triple double, adding 13 boards, nine blocks, five assists and four steals. Bryce Hall had 18 points for the Crusaders and Tim Kater finished with 10 points.
The end result to the district tournament was bitter for Eastern, yet it still capped a successful run to go from being under the radar to the District 3 runner-up and entering the PIAA Class AAA state playoffs.
No matter how dejected the locker room was after the game, the final message Reichard left his players with was to not be disappointed in a silver medal.
"We won, what, 19 out of 21 coming down the stretch, we qualified for states and we're probably going to get to play close to home, which is a good thing," Reichard said. "And this (silver medal) right here isn't a bad thing to hang around your neck. There's a lot of teams that would've liked to be in the spot that we were and it was one heck of a run and it was fun for everyone involved."
Eastern will open the state playoffs on Friday, March 4, vs. the fourth-place team from District 12.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org