MANCHESTER — Balance.
It’s what most teams strive for.
Northeastern put its characteristic balance on display Thursday night when the top-seeded Bobcats (25-2) had four players in double figures and handled No. 8 seed Greencastle 73-52 in a District 3 Class 5-A boys' basketball quarterfinal that puts them in the semifinals Monday night at Hershey’s Giant Center at 8 p.m.
There, the Bobcats (25-2) will face a familiar foe in fourth-seeded Spring Grove (20-6), which rallied late to stun Manheim Central, assuring the all-York County semifinal. It also assures that there will be a county team in the title game.
“Northeastern’s a team that you can’t say, ‘OK, there’s the shooter, go after him,’” Greencastle coach Rick Lewis said. “They have a lot of shooters, and they’re very balanced. This is the third time we’ve played them, so we knew what we were getting into.”
Northeastern won the two previous meetings, 59-48 in the East Pennsboro Holiday Tournament and in early January at home, 80-45.
Spring Grove next: Although its mantra had been “one game at a time,” particularly after being ousted in the first round of districts last year, the announcement following the contest that Spring Grove had won definitely got the Bobcats’ attention.
“They gave us our second loss this year so it’s going to feel good to go out there, especially at Hershey, and play them again,” said Antonio Rizzuto, who led the Bobcats with 21 points (16 coming in the second half). "Making it to the Giant Center was one of our goals this year. It’s going to be fun, and I can’t wait.”
But first, Northeastern had to dispatch of the Mid-Penn Conference Colonial champs, who cut the Bobcats’ 10-point halftime advantage to 37-34 with seven unanswered points to start the third quarter. Northeastern maintained a six-to-eight point cushion for most of the third stanza until it went on a seven-point run to take a 52-39 lead with 1:05 left in the quarter.
“We had a 10-point halftime lead and uncharacteristically turned the ball over about five or six times in the first half on unforced errors, so I didn’t think we played a great first half, but we were still up by 10,” Bobcats’ coach Jon Eyster said. "It’s hard to refocus when you’re up by 10…
“The first time we met Greencastle, neither team played very well. The second time when we met them here, we just made a lot of shots. You’ve got to give them some credit, though. It’s a solid team and they played with a lot of energy. They made some shots that got their confidence going, and they played aggressively in their zone.”
Pulling away: Eventually, however, the Bobcats wore down the visitors, scoring the first eight points of the final quarter to take a 60-42 lead. Eighth-seeded Greencastle (16-9) cut the gap to 64-50 with 3:50 remaining, but that was as close as the Blue Devils would get.
“When we did get up in the second half, they didn’t want to have to play man to man against us, but they had to,” Eyster said. “And once we can spread the floor and get you to play man to man, we can be pretty good.”
Besides Rizzuto, Brandon Coleman had 18 points for Northeastern, Fred Mulbah added 14 and Austin Greene chipped in 10.
“We try to move the ball around,” Coleman said. “That’s what we hope to do every game and it worked well tonight. When they made that run in the third quarter, we just stepped up our defense and took away the open shot and we were able to open up a lead a little bit.”
Reach George Hammond at email@example.com.