New Oxford's Justin Gruver, who hit a 75-foot buzzer beater in the first quarter, talks Colonials basketball after semifinal win over Central York. JACOB CALVIN MEYER, 717-505-5406/@jcalvinmeyer
The first half between New Oxford and Central York on Wednesday night was about runs.
Central started and ended the half on 7-0 runs. Sandwiched between them was a 19-5 run by New Oxford.
The second half, however, was the opposite, with both teams struggling to string baskets together and neither squad scoring more than four consecutive points at any point. It was New Oxford’s defense, however, that led the Colonials to victory, holding the Panthers without a basket for more than a six-minute stretch in the fourth quarter in a 43-41 win in the York-Adams League semifinals.
“We’ve defensively been good all year,” New Oxford head coach Sean Bair said. “We’ve had the No. 1 defense in Division I. We held Eastern scoreless for nine minutes on Saturday. We’ve hung our hat on our defense all year."
Stout defense: The Colonials led 34-31 entering the fourth quarter. Central took a brief one-point lead with about 6:30 remaining and didn’t score again for the next 5 1/2 minutes and went more than six minutes without a made basket.
“It comes down to, on our end we have smart kids who are, from a mental standpoint, very committed to what we’re trying to do on the defensive side of the floor,” Bair said.
Central head coach Kevin Schieler said New Oxford’s defense this season is Bair’s best in his six seasons.
"They’re a very good defensive basketball team,” Schieler said. “They defend on the ball so well, and they make it so difficult to get ball reversals, which is a big part of our offense. They’re physical; they don’t back away from that stuff.”
History made: The win was a milestone for Bair and historic for the Colonials.
The Colonials had been 0-12 in Bair’s tenure at Red Lion High School, including two losses earlier this season.
“Thirteenth time’s the charm,” Bair quipped. “I hope we don’t have to wait 13 more times to get them a second time.”
The win also gives New Oxford a chance to win its first Y-A playoff title in school history. The Colonials will also be the first Adams County team in the title game in 18 years. For Central, the loss means 2018-19 will be the first time in seven years the Panthers won't play in the championship game.
Down the stretch: Midway through the fourth quarter, Brayden Long, who led the Colonials with 10 points, used his strength in getting an offensive rebound and a put-back layup, and Noah Strausbaugh hit a 3-pointer to put the Colonials up 41-35.
The Panthers ended their six-minute scoring drought with about a minute left when Braden Richard, who led all scorers with 14 points, made two free throws to cut the Colonials’ lead to four points. The Panthers cut the lead to four again a little later with two free throws by Taylor Wright-Rawls and then to two points with a layup by Wright-Rawls with 19 seconds left.
With New Oxford winning by six points with a minute remaining, the Colonials missed five straight free throws to give the Panthers a chance to tie or win the game. Central had the ball down two points with 4.1 seconds remaining. The Panthers got two good looks at the basket, one from behind the arc and a 10-foot jumper that bounced around the rim after an offensive rebound.
“We were pretty fortunate,” Bair said. “I’m happy, but there are definitely things we need to correct moving forward.”
“We had no quit,” Schieler said. “That’s one of the things I said to those guys. We had our opportunities. They missed their free throws and we got a few steals there. We just didn’t have the ball bounce our way. That’s going to happen in high school basketball.”
Championship game: New Oxford will play York High in the league final at 7 p.m. Friday at York College. York High rolled past Littlestown in the other league semifinal on Wednesday, 74-51.
New Oxford went 1-1 in the regular season against York High, defeating the then-No. 1 ranked Bearcats 79-73 in early January before losing to them 46-43 a month later in a game that decided the Division I championship.
New Oxford moved to 18-5. Central fell to 17-6.
Reach Jacob Calvin Meyer at email@example.com.