LANDISVILLE — Although she’s only a sophomore, Central York’s Alexa Shorts didn’t let the gravity of the moment affect her play on Tuesday, Oct. 31.
When the Panthers needed her most, Shorts was there, leading Central to a 16-25, 25-22, 25-23, 15-25, 15-9 victory against Elizabethtown in a District 3 Class 4-A quarterfinal at Hempfield High School.
The win not only moves the Panthers into Thursday’s semifinals, it also guarantees Central two more matches and keeps alive its hopes of qualifying for the PIAA state tournament. The top three 4-A teams from the district will advance to states.
“That was really big, for us to be that young and come out strong like that and really finish hard,” Shorts said. “It’s a big accomplishment for us to be in the final four.”
The champions of York-Adams League Division I, the Panthers will now get a shot at returning to the district final for the first time since 2015.
After the third-seeded Panthers (15-2) dropped Game 4 by a decisive margin, the Bears (14-3) looked as if they had wrestled away momentum in an instant from a Central side that was rolling. Elizabethtown even took the first three points of the fifth-and-deciding set before leading 8-7 midway through the final game.
Shorts comes up large: That’s when Shorts made her presence felt in a big way. She first hammered home one of her 11 kills to earn the game’s first tie at 8-8. Later, with the game square at 9-9, Shorts walked back to begin service for the Panthers.
After Central earned a point off her service, Shorts followed with the second of her two aces on the night to give Central an 11-9 lead. The Bears wouldn’t see service the rest of the way. The Panthers were able to rattle off six straight points with Shorts on service to clinch the victory.
“We made some blocking adjustments, some blocking switches, that helped us a little bit,” Central York head coach Nate Ocasio said when asked what changed after the Bears seized momentum. “But at the end of the day, it just comes down to effort and playing with a sense of urgency.”
Overcoming a struggling start: The Panthers dropped the first game, but losing that one seemed to wake up what seemed to be a shaky Central side. A number of hitting and service errors seemed to get the better of the Panthers to start the game, while, conversely, the Bears were far more efficient in getting to their offense and rolling early.
The Panthers, however, didn’t trail once while claiming the next two sets.
During a close third game, Shorts took control late in helping lead the Panthers to a 2-1 lead. Central led Game 3 19-18 when Shorts recorded back-to-back kills to widen the Central margin to 21-18. She and fellow sophomore Jenna Arganbright then combined on a key block to put Central ahead 22-18. From there, Central was able to again fend off a Bears’ comeback attempt.
“I was just trying to move the ball around,” Shorts said. “Trying to get different looks and trying to get them out of system a little bit and it worked out.”
Statistics: Shorts added 24 digs to go along with her 11 kills. Senior Emily Wilt was also an offensive force with a team-high 19 kills. Wilt also posted 14 digs and an assist. Junior setter Linnea Prudell dished out 49 assists while running the Panthers’ attack. She also recorded 12 digs, an ace and a kill.
“We gave ourselves a chance. Getting into the final four, we’ve got two chances to make the state tournament,” Ocasio said. “That’s something that they’ve wanted to do since day one, a goal they set. And they put themselves in a position to do so.”
Hempfield up next: In the semifinals, Central will face Hempfield, a 25-16, 25-17, 25-10 winner over South Western in their quarterfinal match at Hempfield. The site and time for the semifinal have yet to be determined.
Hempfield is seeded No. 2 at 15-1. South Western, the No. 7 seed, finished at 13-5.
Reach Elijah Armold at email@example.com.