MANCHESTER — Fresh off winning their first-ever York-Adams League boys’ basketball championship on Friday, the Northeastern Bobcats were riding on cloud nine.
With the District 3 Class 5-A playoffs starting Monday, however, coach Jon Eyster’s top-seeded squad knew it couldn’t relish that feeling forever.
Maybe just a night and half.
A quick history lesson from last year would ensure that the Bobcats wouldn't overlook their first-round meeting with No. 16 seed Exeter. In 2016, Northeastern entered districts as the No. 3 seed in what was then the Class 4-A bracket. Despite superior talent, the Bobcats were upset by No. 14 seed Wilson on their home court, bringing their season to an abrupt end.
It was a bitter way to finish a great season. That was certainly a point of emphasis heading into Monday’s battle. The Bobcats apparently remembered.
The Bobcats raced out to a seven-point lead 90 seconds into action. They doubled that to 14 points before the visitors finally got on the board with 5:23 left in the first period. By the time it was over, the home team left no doubt about the outcome, dispatching Exeter, 86-38.
Northeastern (24-2) advances to the quarterfinals Thursday against Greencastle at 7 p.m. back on their home court. G-A (16-8), the No. 8 seed, squeaked past No. 9 Shippensburg, 58-57, in another first-round contest Monday.
“This was so much fun,” Northeastern standout Antonio Rizzuto said. “Last year we came in thinking it was going to be a cake walk against Wilson and we ended up losing. So (tonight) we went out and didn’t care what they looked like. We went out as hard as we could and it was just a lot of fun. So we were pumped.”
A near-capacity crowd cheered on the Bobcats, who played a nearly flawless first eight minutes. The home team piled up 32 points in the first period.
Rizzuto tallied eight of his game-high 21 points in the frame. Teammate Fred Mulbah poured in 11 of his 17 points in the first stanza, while Brandon Coleman added seven of his 17 points during the high-scoring period.
“It was just crazy,” Rizzuto said. “Everybody was working the ball, everybody was scoring. So it was good.”
Monday’s victory also locked up a PIAA state berth for Eyster’s team. At this point, however, that's likely just a minor detail in the Bobcats' grand scheme. Winning a District 3 5-A title is definitely the bull's-eye that Northeastern is aiming at.
Their immediate focus, however, is on Thursday’s third battle against Greencastle.
“We’ve played Greencastle twice this year,” said Eyster, whose team earned 59-48 and 80-45 triumphs. “And we have them here, which is good.”
Rizzuto led the Bobcats in scoring in both victories points against Blue Devils, piling up a combined 42 points in the process.
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.