RED LION — In the minds of the Central York boys' volleyball players, they were due.
Long overdue actually.
After losing both the regular-season and the York-Adams League playoff title matches against Northeastern, the Panthers needed just one more shot at their backyard rivals.
Tuesday, in the PIAA Class 3-A semifinals at Red Lion High School, they finally got their wish.
This time they made the most of it.
In a back-and-forth match between the two premier boys' volleyball programs in the state, the District 3 champs were able to get the better of the Bobcats in the biggest showdown of the season. Fending off several match points in Set 4, the CY boys eventually prevailed for a thrilling 25-20, 17-25, 20-25, 32-30, 15-8 triumph.
The Panthers move on to the state final against District 7 champ North Allegheny, a 3-1 winner over Bethel Park in the other semifinal. Saturday's title match should start around 1:30 p.m. at Penn State's Pegula Ice Arena.
"This was just huge," Central York senior Braden Richard said. "This is my senior year and this is what we've been waiting for all season and I'm happy to get there. It's great."
Panthers earned it: The CY boys definitely had to earn this one. The six-time PIAA 2-A champs were not about to go down without a fight. After losing the first set, the Bobcats took the next two to put the Panthers on the brink of seeing their terrific season draw to a premature conclusion. The Panthers battled through adversity and several match points before finally taking a Set 4. That set had the packed house at Red Lion literally on the edge of their seats over the final 10 points.
"That was very taxing," Richard said of Set 4. "Whenever we would lose a point, we had to move on and get ready for the next point. And we ended up focusing and bringing it all together in the end."
Never threatened in deciding set: Before the fifth set, Richard and his team prepared for what they all figured would be a continuation of the intense play that was a hallmark of the fourth set. Instead, the CY boys jumped out to an early lead and never were seriously threatened.
"I thought it was going to go back-and-forth," Richard said. "But we came out fired up in that fifth set."
Up to the challenge: Richard, a Saint Francis (Pennsylvania) recruit, is clearly one of the guys that everyone on the Panthers looks to in the clutch. Setter Brock Anderson, who battled a nagging hip injury in the previous two showdowns with the Bobcats, challenged Richard to elevate his game with the season on the line.
"I just looked at Braden and said, 'you're the best player in the state,'" Anderson said of Richard, who led the team with 24 kills. "He had to carry us and he did a great job."
Anderson finished with 51 assists.
Bobcats won't get seventh straight state title: The Northeastern boys were understandably upset after failing to make it to an unprecedented seventh state title contest in a row. Still, the old adage that it's tough to beat a good team twice, or in this case three times, in a season proved true.
"A great team," Northeastern coach Matt Wilson said of Central. "But we had, what, three serves for match point (in Set 4) and we didn't convert them. And that's sort of been us ... the inability to really finish it, and today was one of those nights."
For the first time in seven years, Wilson had to hold a season-ending huddle with his team without gold medals hanging around all of their necks.
"I really just made it up as I went along," he said of his post-game discussion. "It's been awhile. It's not often that we're sitting in one of these situations, but we are tonight."
Nate Wilson had 28 kills for Northeastern, while Austin Richards added 56 assists.
Panthers after eighth crown: Now the Panthers will have a chance to rectify an issue that the team has identified since winning their seventh and last state title back in 2017.
"We always joke around that the back of our warm-ups have seven volleyballs on the back of them and it's uneven," Anderson said. "So we said we need to even it out and get eight on their, so it's four on each side."
To do that, the CY boys will need to knock off a North Allegheny side that eliminated them from the state draw a season ago.
"We definitely want to avenge our loss in the semis to them last year," Anderson said.
Reach Ryan Vandersloot at firstname.lastname@example.org.