HERSHEY — Sitting in the Giant Center locker room at halftime of Monday's District 3 Class 6-A girls' basketball semifinal game vs. Cumberland Valley, all the Central York players could tell themselves was to "just keep shooting."
The shots would fall eventually. They had to, right?
The Panthers, who averaged more than 60 points per game this season, were held to just 10 points through the first 16 minutes. Surely, those offensive difficulties couldn't continue, right?
Well, yes, things did get a bit better in the second half, mainly in the third quarter, but it wasn't enough for Central, which fell to the Eagles, 41-32, to drop into the third-place game. Top-seeded CV (20-5) will play for the district title Friday night.
"The word I used in the locker room was 'disappointing,'" Panthers' head coach Scott Wisner said. "Especially the first half, I thought we got such tremendous looks around the basket. I understand a little bit if perimeter shots aren't falling, but I thought we had a lot of shots that were in and out."
While things couldn't get much worse for No. 4 seed Central (24-3) after the opening half, it wasn't all doom and gloom. Despite being held to just 3-for-24 shooting in the opening 16 minutes, the Panthers' defense held CV to 15 points in the first two quarters, to only trail by five at the break.
Better third quarter: Both teams came out stronger and played more up to their potential in the third quarter, creating a more competitive contest. A fast start by the Eagles stretched their lead to as large as nine in the frame, but Central responded, eventually cutting the deficit to two by the end of quarter. Heading into the fourth, it was 27-25, CV.
Even with some semblance of momentum on their side going into the final eight minutes, it didn't translate into points for the Panthers. The cold shooting hurt the team again to open the fourth and it allowed the Eagles to build their cushion. It wasn't until midway through the quarter when Nikson Valencik split a pair of free throws that Central scored its first point of the frame. By that point, it was too tough a hill to climb. CV doubled-up the Panthers in scoring in the fourth to pull away.
New experience: It was the first time any of the players on Central ever played inside the cavernous Giant Center. With different sight lines, a different perspective and different style baskets than what the players were used to, it clearly created all sorts of problems.
"Most of it was coming into a gym that we haven't played in before," senior Emma Saxton said. "I've always had a tough time shooting on those backboards that are planted to the ground, and I think the rims were tough on us and I think we never got the chance for it to fall."
If the scoring woes weren't enough of a problem for the Panthers, they also had to contend with the Eagles' standout senior, Katie Jekot. The guard is committed to play for St. Joe's in college and, while she didn't have a strong shooting performance herself, she still came up with timely buckets, finishing with a game-high 19 points.
Teirra Preston was the only Central player in double figures, scoring 11 points.
Bouncing back: While the frustration was still fresh for the Panthers, they know that the season isn't over. Central has already booked a spot in the state tournament and is guaranteed at least two more games.
"We talked about bouncing back," Wisner said. "Coming back in the consolation game on Thursday and having a better performance and seeing what that means seed-wise heading into states and just keep playing hard."
In Thursday's third-place game, set for 8 p.m. Thursday at Manheim Township, the Panthers will face the loser of Tuesday's other semifinal between No. 2 Cedar Crest (26-0) vs. No. 3 Central Dauphin (20-3).
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com