Spring-Ford boys basketball overcomes slow start, knocks off Central York in PIAA 6A first round

ROYERSFORD >> Zach Zollers is having himself a week.

A day after announcing his commitment to play football at the University of Pittsburgh, the senior forward put up a career-high 15 points for Spring-Ford on Saturday.

It was one of a few deciding factors for the Rams in a 56-46 win over Central York in the opening round of the PIAA Class 6A boys basketball tournament at Spring Ford High School.

With the win, Spring-Ford (26-3) will take on Hempfield, a 62-59 winner over Emmaus on Wednesday at a time and site to be determined.

“I’m mostly focused on continuing our season,” Zollers said. “Just making the season longer. I want to keep playing with my boys.”

Zollers typically crashes the boards while sharpshooters Jacob Nguyen and EJ Campbell split the workload in the scoring department. Against the Panthers, Nguyen and Campbell still continued to do just that with 14 points apiece.

Central York (22-8) is led by YAIAA Coach of the Year Jeff Hoke and Player of the Year Greg Guidinger. Guidinger, who just surpassed 1,000 career points in the District 3-6A tournament, is a 6-foot-7 stretch forward who has averaged 16.9 points per game, 8.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists. He’s also the son of former NBA player Jay Guidinger.

Add a supporting cast of 6-foot-8 power forward Ben Rill and 6-foot-1 guard Ben Natal — both YAIAA first teamers as sophomores — and you’ve got a dangerous squad out of District 3. Through the first quarter, the Panthers played like it, too, rumbling out to a 16-8 lead at the end of the opening frame.

“We had a terrible first quarter,” Rams coach Joe Dempsey said. “They out-toughed us and I thought they surprised us a little bit by their quickness, length and athleticism.”

Central York guard Ethan Dodson (2) drives alongside Spring-Ford’s EJ Campbell (1) during the opening round of the PIAA Class 6A boys basketball tournament at Spring-Ford High School on March 11. (Evan Wheaton – MediaNews Group)

Senior guard Ethan Dodson matched Zollers’ 15 points for the Panthers while Ben Rill scored 13, nine of which came in the fourth quarter. Guidinger supplied eight.

Sophomore Tommy Kelly, a 6-foot-4 forward, opened the floodgates of a 12-4 run for Spring-Ford in the second stanza and capped it with a corner-three, taking what became a permanent lead, 21-20 with 3:44 to go before halftime.

The second quarter was a pivotal one for the Rams’ defense, which allows just 45.6 ppg. The Panthers were held to just two field goals during that time from Dodson and Natal. Meanwhile, Nguyen poured on seven points in that stretch while Campbell tacked on four.

“I really thought we could expose our size advantage inside, but we struggled. We turned the ball over and a lot of it is youth, being in (the state tournament) for the first time on an away court,” Hoke said, noting his squad having just one senior and two juniors rostered. “I blame myself for not putting us in a better position to score easier points.”

By halftime — at which point Spring-Ford led 25-22 — Nguyen had 11 points. But over the course of the third quarter, the Rams encountered a new issue — foul trouble.

Before the end of the third frame, which the Rams led 40-31, key pieces for Spring-Ford — Alex Lewis, Kelly and Nguyen — were all up to three fouls each. With that loaded front from Central York hovering around by the start of the fourth quarter, it was time for caution, precision and discipline on the floor.

“It hamstrings you as a coach,” Dempsey said. “We did a great job all year just walling up and not fouling people. I think their skill, they have some kids who can really do a lot with the dribble and with the ball so we got caught reaching and out of position a few times. It’s not something I like to do, manage that when a kid gets two fouls in the first half.”

Spring-Ford guard Caleb Little eyes the key for an open teammate against Central York during the opening round of the PIAA Class 6A boys basketball tournament at Spring-Ford High School on March 11. (Evan Wheaton – MediaNews Group)

Spring-Ford was able to maneuver around its individual fouls and find contributions from the bench as well, pulling away during the fourth quarter in the process. The Rams led by as much as 16 points, 53-37 after a 3-pointer from Campbell with 2:29 left on the clock.

“I liked this matchup,” Hoke said. “At their place, they’re playing well, a great coach, a great team, they played well and we didn’t tonight. That’s what it really came down to. They made a lot of really great shots and we didn’t play real well, even though we’ve been playing great basketball. It happens, it’s a life lesson. But I’m so proud of these guys. We put Central York on the map.”

Spring-Ford forward Alex Lewis, left, comes down with an offensive rebound against Central York during the opening round of the PIAA Class 6A boys basketball tournament at Spring-Ford High School on March 11. (Evan Wheaton – MediaNews Group)

Spring-Ford advancing to the round of 16 comes off the heels of a loss to District 1 champion Plymouth Whitemarsh in the district final at Temple. The Colonials were knocked out of the state tournament by District 3 sixth-place Chambersburg, shaking up the state bracket.

Having hit the reset button — and ensuring a season without consecutive losses — the Rams enter the second rebound with some pep in their step.

“I think it shows we belong here,” Zollers said. “A couple plays go a different way, we win that (District 1 final). We know we belong, and like I said, we’re just trying to continue the season as much as possible to keep playing with each other.”

Spring-Ford 56, Central York 46


Central York16691546

Central York: Brown 0 0-0 0; Natal 1 5-6 7; Dodson 7 1-1 15; Suchanic 1 1-2 3; Guidinger 3 0-1 8; Nace 0 0-0 0; Rill 5 3-5 13; Parker 0 0-0 0. Totals: 17 11-15 46
Spring-Ford: Campbell 6 0-1 14; Banks 1 1-2 3; Nguyen 5 0-0 14; Zollers 6 3-3 15; McKenna 0 0-0 0; Johnson 0 0-0 0; Dellangelo 0 2-2 2; Little 0 0-1 0; Kelly 3 1-2 8; Lewis 0 0-0 0; Mokonchu 0 0-0 0. Totals: 21 7-11 56
3-point goals: Guidinger, Campbell 2, Nguyen 4, Kelly

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