The Central York boys’ volleyball team had already taken the first two sets, but North Allegheny had a reputation for not giving up and was playing well in the third set.
That was when Jason Gardner had likely the two biggest, most emotional points of the match.
With his Panthers leading by just 12-11, Gardner put up a solo block for a point, then hammered down a kill off an overpass on the next point.
"It just felt great knowing that I was making an impact for the team," Gardner said. "It helped bring us back in the game and separate us a little bit more. Every point’s important. Anything I could do to help."
The Central York players and their fans erupted, and the shoulders for the Tigers seemed to sag a little more. Not long after the lead was at 22-14, and a state title was in their sights.
The Panthers swept the Tigers 25-17, 25-21, 25-19 Saturday afternoon at Rec Hall for the program’s second PIAA Class AAA title in the last four years and the sixth in program history.
Gardner finished with a team-high 13 kills and four blocks, but the biggest came midway through the third when his team needed the spark.
"We knew they were a good team and weren’t going to give up," Gardner said. "We knew they won a lot of five-game matches this year, so we knew we had to stay calm and weather the storm."
Central York (21-0) also got 12 kills, 10 digs and five blocks from Royce Clemens, who will be joining the Nittany Lion men’s team as a libero this fall and was a freshman role player with the 2011 title-winning team.
"It’s more rewarding, meaningful," Clemens said. "I actually played a big role in getting here. It’s not just me. Everybody played their parts too. Just knowing how everybody accepted their roles on the team this year, and how we all won and played well together, is just awesome."
Central York also beat North Allegheny for the 2011 crown.
Jeremiah Dadeboe added nine kills and four blocks, Alex Klunk also had four blocks and Dylan Hose gave out 36 assists as the Panthers had a 40-33 edge in kills.
"This is the coolest thing in sports that I’ve ever accomplished," Hose said. "Winning the state championship is so incredible. I just thank that I had the teammates and the coaches to be able to do it."
Mitch Higgins’ 17 kills led the Tigers (22-2), who also were seeking the program’s sixth PIAA title and were the defending champions, while David Haus added nine kills. Antonios Balouris gave out 29 assists, Ethan DeRubbo had 14 digs and Brendan Brown had four blocks.
Central York only had one service ace, but also made just four service errors and dictated play by hitting the right spots with the serve. It made North Allegheny predictable, leading to an 8-4 blocking advantage.
"They served us incredibly well, which magnified how good their block was," said Tigers coach Dan Schall, whose team returned just three athletes who saw court time in last year’s state finals. "We were in situations where we had one or two options offensively, and their block was tremendous."
The win wrapped up two state title matches pitting teams from the Pittsburgh and York areas, with York County taking both contests.
"It’s definitely pretty cool," Hose said. "It says a lot about York volleyball, how you can bring two state championships back to York."