Maybe the most disappointing thing that will come of this year's York-Adams League boys' lacrosse season is that only four teams will have a shot to play for the league championship.
Sure, that's nearly one-third of the league, but considering the parity at the top, it almost seems unjust to cut the field off at the top four.
Going into the season, it looked like a tall task to expect the league teams to replicate the competitiveness for those precious playoff spots that was on display last year. In 2016, seven teams finished above .500, with all of them finishing within a couple games of a playoff berth. The top two teams in the regular season, York Catholic and Red Lion, finished with matching 9-2 league records, while Central York and Susquehannock wound up tying for the final two playoff berths with 8-3 league marks, just one game back of the Fighting Irish and Lions.
Trailing them were Dallastown, West York and York Suburban, all teams that finished a game or two out of the playoffs. The closeness of the top half of the league created an intense atmosphere each night the teams took the field, with a win or loss potentially swinging the standings by two or three spots.
It was truly a joy to keep an eye on.
Yet, this year might still top it.
While we still have a ways to go, with just under half of the league schedule remaining, we again find ourselves with seven teams above .500 in league competition. That's exactly half of the 14-team field, thanks to the addition of Dover and Delone Catholic as full league members.
Of those seven teams above .500, the top four are separated by just two games, while the other three are all within a game of finding themselves on the right side of the cut line when it comes to making the playoffs.
Panthers are top dog: Central York currently leads the bunch with a perfect 7-0 mark in league play and 9-0 overall, while York Suburban and Dallastown each have just one loss within the league. Red Lion, Susquehannock and reigning league champ York Catholic all sit at two losses against league foes, while Eastern York is closely lurking at 4-3 in league games.
It's safe to say that, of those teams, the Panthers appear to be the best bet to sew up a playoff berth and do so as the top seed. Central York has already faced five of the other six teams in the league that boast winning marks within the Y-A League. In those games, the Panthers have won by 31 combined goals, or a little more than five per game. Again, that's their average margin of victory against their nearest competition.
In three of those contests, Central has been pushed to the brink, needing two one-goal wins and a two-goal victory to remain perfect. That proves that the Panthers can win big or close, a true testament to a good team. Central will wrap up playing the teams in the top half of the league on Monday with a road tilt against Susquehannock. If the Panthers get past the Warriors, then you can all but pencil them in as the league's top seed come playoff time, most likely as an unblemished team.
Next in line: With Central a solid bet to sew up one of the league playoff berths, that essentially leaves six teams fighting for three spots. Of the two teams sitting at just one league loss (Dallastown and York Suburban), Dallastown is the more experienced of the two, making it the more likely team to keep pace with the Panthers.
Suburban, however, is showing that a talented young team can overcome a lack of experience, and has itself in a good spot to make the league tournament, despite losing the league's top player last year, Collin Mailman, to graduation.
The Trojans, however, will surely get a challenge from any of the other four teams hanging around within a game of the top four, especially with the Fighting Irish too talented to remain on the outside looking in and the Lions boasting a deep attack that's proven it can outscore just about anybody. Red Lion is at Suburban on Tuesday night in a pivotal contest, while Thursday afternoon, York Suburban is at York Catholic. Eastern also has a pair of big matches this week. The Golden Knights play host to York Catholic Tuesday night and travel to Dallastown Thursday night.
So, yes, this season looks to be outperforming last year's drama-filled campaign. The final weeks of the regular season will be sure to produce some exciting lacrosse.
It's just too bad that, of seven teams currently worthy of a bid, only four will compete for a league crown in May.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org