It may seem a bit odd, but the York Catholic boys' basketball team may have earned more respect on a district and statewide scale this season than it did within the York-Adams League.
All season long, the talk of the league centered on the athleticism of Northeastern, or the elite play of Spring Grove's Eli Brooks. Even Eastern York earned a ton of recognition for its hot start, and then its ensuing struggles following the loss of senior standout Jared Achterberg.
However, as the Bobcats, Rockets and Golden Knights, along with five other teams, prepare for the league tournament starting Saturday night, the Fighting Irish are easily the hottest of the bunch entering the postseason.
Still, many might not realize it.
"We're a really talented and deep group," head coach Blaine Claiborne said. "Our talent has prevailed in a lot of the games that we've had, but there's been a few where we were matched up with teams that were just as talented as us and we had to show some other things, as far as being together as teammates, working hard and working together."
York Catholic hasn't lost since the second night of the season — its season opener — and is riding a 20-game winning streak into the postseason. The Fighting Irish are No. 2 in the District 3 Class 3-A power ratings and No. 5 in the 3-A state rankings by the City of Basketball Love website.
That kind of resume would normally garner a ton of attention. The Fighting Irish, however, play in Division III, which features the smallest schools in the Y-A League. That division is also made up largely of Adams County programs, which often fly under the radar of York County fans. Finally, York Catholic was rarely tested in division play this year, winning most of the games by large margins.
That doesn't mean the Irish aren't talented, however. In fact, York Catholic might possess one of the deepest rosters in the league. It's full of players with the talent to rival some of the top players in D-I and D-II. Before the season even began, senior forward Melik Martin proudly boasted that the Fighting Irish were the Golden State Warriors of the Y-A League. In terms of analogies, he wasn't far off.
Martin (17.1 points per game) and junior D'Andre Davis (15.5 ppg) both rank in the top 15 in the league in scoring, while other players, such as Andrew Forjan, Kyle Derowski and Steven Nigro, contribute in other ways that don't necessarily show up on the stat sheet.
York Catholic will look to prove it belongs in the league title conversation when it faces Eastern York in the first round of the league tournament on Saturday at 6 p.m. at West York. The Golden Knights enter the playoffs at 14-8 and finished second in D-II with a 7-5 league mark.
Should the Irish get through to the semifinals, they'll face the winner of Northeastern vs. Littlestown. The Bobcats (20-2 overall, 12-2 D-I) won the D-I crown after starting the year 17-0, but went just 3-2 down the stretch. Meanwhile, the Thunderbolts enter as the No. 3 seed out of D-III after earning the eighth-and-final spot in the field over Kennard-Dale by virtue of a District 3 power rating tiebreaker. Littlestown went 15-7 overall and 10-4 in D-III. That game will be played immediately following the Fighting Irish vs. Eastern game at West York.
Rockets look to defend crown: In the other half of the bracket, the reigning league title holder, Spring Grove, will look to repeat as league champion.
After opening the season 6-3 and trying to feel their way through some inexperience, the Rockets turned it on down the stretch, going 11-2 in their final 13 games to finish with a 17-5 record, 11-3 in D-I, just a game back of Northeastern. At one point, after knocking off the Bobcats at home in late January, Spring Grove was tied for the D-I lead, but a slip up against Central York pushed it back into second and out of the running for a D-I title.
However, this is the same spot the Rockets entered last year's league tournament, as the No. 2 seed out of D-I. Awaiting them in the first round is Delone Catholic, the runner-up to York Catholic in D-III. The Squires went just 12-10 overall, but 11-3 in division play. However, they've been without leading scorer Logan Alexander for the past couple weeks after he was arrested for an off-court incident. That game will take place at Red Lion at 6 p.m.
"My dad said we're the county champs until someone else wins," Eli Brooks said following Monday night's game. "So, we're just trying to defend (the title) for the seniors that left and for the people that were counted out. Nobody thought we were going to be this good, so it's kind of rewarding to see the success that we had."
In the other semifinal on that side of the bracket, Dover, the D-II champion will face the No. 3 seed out of D-I, Central York.
The Eagles (14-8 10-2), despite not having any seniors on the roster, didn't let their youth derail them this year and took control of the division once the Golden Knights began to falter following the loss of Achterberg. Meanwhile, the Panthers are looking to make a return trip to the championship game. Central lost to Spring Grove in last year's league final. Central went 15-7 overall and 10-4 in D-I, but pulled off some huge wins this season, including victories over the Rockets and Bobcats, both on the road. This game will take place after the Spring Grove vs. Delone game at Red Lion.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org