After the final out of the York-Adams League championship game on Wednesday, a Central York player yelled that the Panthers finally advanced past the first round of the district tournament.
It was an odd proclamation after the team had just won a third-straight league title. After all, the District 3 Class 6-A playoffs don't even begin until Tuesday. At the same time, however, the unidentified player wasn't wrong.
Because of the Panthers' strong season, they earned the No. 2 seed and a bye into the quarterfinals. So, yes, they did technically conquer their first-round demons.
Now, the next step for Central is to actually win a district game. Simply put, this team is way too talented to be satisfied with a first-round bye and a quarterfinal appearance.
The Panthers' district victory drought isn't even long. Just two years, to be exact.
The last time a Central softball team won a district playoff game was in 2014, when it mercy-ruled Y-A League foe Red Lion, 10-0, as the No. 2 seed in 4-A. Since then, the Panthers have been one-and-done, both times as the better seed while playing at home.
Winning in districts is something that the current players feel they need to do for themselves to solidify a strong legacy. For these Panthers, mostly the juniors and seniors, they've never tasted defeat in the league tournament, but have also never tasted victory in districts.
That's especially true for the seniors. They don't want to end their careers thinking about what might have been. That's what makes this year's district tournament so much more pressure-filled than past ones.
Only the players aren't approaching it like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders.
"We're a pretty laid-back team," senior catcher Briannah Dobson said after the league championship game. "So, we don't really put much nerves and pressure on ourselves to begin with, so we're just going to treat every game as a regular game. It's just another regular game."
Maybe that relaxed approach is what this year's team will need to win a game and make a run at a state tournament berth. The Panthers enter the district tournament identical to how they entered last year, with a 21-1 record. The Panthers will play host to the winner of Tuesday's first round match-up between No. 7 Warwick and No. 10 Dallastown.
Last year's team was upset in its district opener, 6-0 to No. 12 Hempfield at home, ending its season. This year's team, however, appears to be on a mission to see just how far it can go and how great it can truly be.
"I think last year, it was a mental aspect of kind of wanting to be done," junior standout pitcher Courtney Coppersmith said. "All of us, so far, we want it and want it bad."
The Panthers haven't competed in the state tournament since 2008. All it would take to end that dry spell would be one win in the district tournament. The the top four 6-A teams are assured of making states.
This team is more than capable of accomplishing that goal. It's shown that time and time again this year, with the way it's dominated opponents on a daily basis.
All Central must do is avoid being satisfied with earning a bye into the quarterfinals, because the Panthers haven't won anything just yet.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org