RED LION — Players who step up in a time of need often distinguish the elite teams from the good ones.
The Central York boys’ basketball team is making a loud statement already this season that the Panthers want to be in the former category.
Without key players such as Cade Pribula and Larry Hunt in the lineup during the opening weekend, the Panthers still came away with a pair of victories against Elizabethtown (58-48) and 2018 PIAA Class 6-A runner-up Abraham Lincoln (69-64) to win the Manheim Township Tip-off Tournament title.
Taking down the reigning Philadelphia Public League champs without Pribula, who is still nursing a shoulder injury suffered during football season, and Hunt, the team’s talented point guard who was out with a sprained ankle, says a lot about coach Kevin Schieler and his squad.
Doing it without Hunt, who is one of the team’s primary ball handlers, makes the feat all that more impressive.
“It was good for us to play a team like that,” Schieler said of Abraham Lincoln after his team improved to 3-0 by knocking off Red Lion, 62-46, Tuesday evening in the York-Adams Division I opener for both teams. “They were just a team that gets out and pressures you 94 feet and you don’t see that a lot in York County. They were just trapping all over the place and I think it was great to expose our guys to that.”
Hunt, who returned to the lineup Tuesday, wished his injury would have healed in time for Saturday’s clash.
“I know that they were a very good team,” said Hunt, who tallied 12 points in his season debut against the Lions. “All I could do is cheer them on from the bench.”
Bringing "energy" vs. Red Lion: The poise and execution that the Panthers displayed in Saturday’s confidence-building victory was also visible Tuesday against a Red Lion team that cannot be overlooked in the York-Adams League by any stretch.
“I really like the energy that the Red Lion team brings all the time,” Schieler said. “And what I was really proud of with my guys tonight was that, not only did we match the energy, but we didn’t let our emotions take over.”
The emotion part has been a particular issue, especially when playing on the spacious court at Red Lion. Last season’s District 3 playoff game against Dallastown, which was supposed to be a home contest for Central, was moved to the Lions' Den due to a bomb scare at the high school.
The Panthers got off to a fantastic start in that game only to see the Wildcats rally back to end Central’s season.
“Coach wrote on our scouting report that we were 3-4 in this gym last year,” Panthers guard Evan Eisenhart said. “So we kind of viewed that as a challenge.”
“We seemed to not bring our ‘A’ game (in the past),” Schieler said. “But I’m glad that we did today.”
Lions don't make it easy: The Lions did their best to make things tough, including a large and loud student section dressed up in mostly Christmas-themed costumes or pajamas.
“I know that we were all a little nervous,” said Eisenhart, who tallied 14 points in Tuesday’s triumph. “It was our first game in the league and they had a crazy student section, but I think we did great. It just prepares us for the rest of the season.”
Braden Richard, who is also a standout on the CY boys’ volleyball team, agreed with Eisenhart.
“We have some young guys on this team that have never seen much varsity time,” said Richard, who scored a team-high 15 points in the victory over Red Lion. “And they’ve come up and started performing, which I think is just going to help us out in the future.”
The Panthers next host defending Y-A Division I champion Northeastern Friday before taking on preseason D-I favorite York High next Tuesday.
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at email@example.com.