HERSHEY — Fred Mulbah looked around, saw he had nothing but open hardwood ahead of him, and took flight.
In the air, he pulled his arm back, swung it around in a full windmill circle, and thunderously slammed the ball through the rim.
It was the perfect exclamation point on Northeastern's 78-58 win over York-Adams League Division I rival Spring Grove in a District 3 Class 5-A semifinal game at the Giant Center.
"Once Austin (Greene) got the steal, I knew I was going to do it," Mulbah said.
It was emphatic, just like the Bobcats' entire performance.
There was never a time when they weren't at the top of their game, only allowing the Rockets to grab one lead the entire contest, which came at 16-15 late in the first quarter.
The only time after that that it looked like No. 4 Spring Grove (20-7) was going to give top-seeded Northeastern (26-2) a run for its money came at the end of the first half. Trailing by 10, the Rockets took advantage of Bobcats' junior Antonio Rizzuto coming out of the game with foul trouble. Spring Grove responded by knocking down a pair of 3-pointers before the break to make it just 37-33 Northeastern at halftime.
At the time, Rizzuto and Mulbah combined to shoot 10 for 13 from the floor, knocking down six 3-pointers and scoring 30 of the team's 37 points. Meanwhile, Rockets' standout Eli Brooks had 16 at the break, keeping his team firmly in the game. All Spring Grove had to do was wait for the Bobcats to hit a cold spell and it could make its move.
It never came.
"No one shoots that well, except James Brooks," Rockets head coach James Brooks joked after the loss. "Their percentage was going to go back down. Their percentage was going to go back down in the second half."
Technically, it did go back down, just not as much as Brooks would've liked.
Northeastern continued to exploit the weaknesses in Spring Grove's defense once players got into foul trouble and stretched its lead. The Rockets couldn't keep pace. The lead quickly ballooned to double figures and then 15 points, before settling at 58-40 heading into the fourth quarter, thanks to a 21-7 quarter by the Bobcats.
"We felt pretty confident that, as long as we carried out the game plan and helping out on Eli, that we'd be OK," Northeastern head coach Jon Eyster said. "Offensively, we were pretty patient all night and that was key for us."
It didn't take long into the fourth quarter to realize that Spring Grove didn't have one final comeback attempt left in it. Blown assignments on defense led to easy, uncontested layups for Bobcat players, while shots that looked good out of the hand, just weren't falling for the Rockets.
In a matter of minutes, a once-spirited rivalry game quickly turned into a laugher, with Mulbah's windmill dunk the cherry on top.
Mulbah finished with 25 for Northeastern, but it was Rizzuto who led the charge offensively, putting up 30 points. Brandon Coleman added 10, while, as a team, the Bobcats shot just under 60 percent from the floor.
Brooks poured in 19 points in the second half to finish with 35, but most of those second-half points came late when the game was out of reach. This was the second consecutive season that Spring Grove lost to a York County rival in the semifinal round, last year losing on a tip-in buzzer-beater to Central York. The Rockets will face No. 6 Milton Hershey (19-5) at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Lower Dauphin in the third-place game. Milton Hershey lost to Mechanicsburg in the other semifinal, 56-45.
Northeastern will play in the District 3 championship game for the first time since 2004, taking on No. 2 Mechanicsburg (22-5) on Friday night at 8:30 at the Giant Center.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org