Greg Guidinger let out a roar along with a flurry of fist pumps.
The 6-foot-7 senior tries not to show his emotion often. But he couldn’t contain himself in this moment. A dagger 3-pointer that punctuated a jaw-dropping sequence in the biggest statement a team could possibly make on opening night.
Central York started its season with a 90-73 home win over Reading Tuesday. The same program that won its third Class 6A state title in six years last season. The same program that humbled these Panthers on opening night last year.
On this night, the Red Knights couldn’t keep pace with a team that is clearly the most talented group to come out of York County in recent memory.
“There’s no better feeling in basketball than when shots start to go in,” Guidinger said. “And we’re playing together and there’s nothing the other team can do to stop us.
“It wasn’t me … it was everybody clicking on all cylinders and showing the potential this team has.”
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It’s no secret this Central York squad has crazy potential. But they went 15-1 against York County opponents and 7-7 outside the league while losing in the first round of the state playoffs last season. Could they really compete with the best teams in District 3? The best in the state?
Tuesday night provided a resounding statement: This Panthers team can play with anyone.
Of course, it would be dishonest to say this is the same Reading squad that went 32-1 on its way to state gold last season. The Red Knights graduated three all-state players and have a new coach with former assistant Francis Camara taking over for legendary Rick Perez.
Still, the Red Knights are quick, tenacious and shot the ball lights out in the first half Tuesday. They still have two returning starters. They led by 11 points at one point in the first half and Guidinger admitted the game could’ve gotten “ugly” in the other direction.
Instead, Central York cut the deficit to four at halftime and then opened the third quarter on a 14-0 run. They outscored the Red Knights 28-5 in the quarter. They led by 24 points at one point in the fourth.
Size? Guidinger and 6-foot-8 Ben Rill have it. Shooting? They made seven 3-pointers. Experience? They have six players who started games last season. Depth? They got points from nine different players and sixth man Brooklyn Nace led them with 23 points.
The Panthers check off a lot of boxes.
“They are a very disciplined team,” Camara said. “They play with each other. Every mistake we made they capitalized off it. We got beat up. That is a team you’re going to see in districts and they’re going to be playing in states.”
“They play with each other.” That might be the key point. The Panthers have so much talent that fighting over the ball seems inevitable. But it doesn’t seem to be the case. The possessions where Rill bulldozes through three defenders for a put back flow seamlessly into ones where Ben Natal drops in a floater. The Big Three of Natal (16 points), Rill (15) and Guidinger (12) combined for less than half of Central’s points as Nace starred and sophomores Ryan Brown (nine points) and Ryan Jackson (eight points) contributed.
And yet Rill went out of his way to praise freshman point guard Doug Layer for causing “havoc” on defense. Multiple college coaches attended the game to speak with Guidinger, but the senior captain couldn’t stop talking about Nace’s “ridiculous” transition from football back to basketball last month.
“They’re very unselfish by nature,” head coach Jeff Hoke said. “We’re trying to say: ‘Here’s your role today.’ It might change tomorrow. But accept that this is what’s best for the team and good things will happen.”
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There’s still plenty for the Panthers to work on. They shot just 9-of-18 from the free throw line. They didn’t get back on defense in the first half. Hoke described his team’s start to the game as “horrendous.”
But the Panthers seemed to accept that criticism. And they know it’s only one game. They play a loaded schedule once again, with a trip to Coatesville Saturday and Philadelphia’s Archbishop Wood next weekend. They don’t face Mid-Penn favorite Cumberland Valley until early February, but a number of Eagles coaches and players were in attendance Tuesday to watch their District 3 rivals.
And of course, every YAIAA Division I team is waiting for its chance to upset Central — knowing the Panthers are the ones with the target on their backs.
“I don’t really think there’s any pressure for us,” Rill said. “We’re used to each other. We’re right back to it.”
There was no massive celebration after Tuesday’s game, but the Panthers clearly enjoyed themselves in the second half. Guidinger doesn’t think that’s a bad thing. He recalled last year’s opening 87-68 loss to Reading, how the Red Knights kept letting out their own cheers and fist pumps after big shots.
The lesson: This could be a season to remember. Why not have some fun?
“That (Reading) team played for each other,” Guidinger said. “I took that and used it as an example of what we can be. That emotion and energy can lift up your teammates. The way we locked in for each other (tonight) just shows that as we work game by game and don’t worry about what’s next, we can do amazing things. Everything will fall into place and we’re going to have a fantastic season.”
Matt Allibone is a sports reporter for GameTimePA. He can be reached at 717-881-8221, email@example.com or on X at @bad2theallibone.