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Manheim Central’s girls basketball team spent the first half of the regular season kind of flying under the radar.

After Tuesday night’s clutch win at Solanco, it’s time to remove the sleeper tag from the Barons.

Freshman Maddie Knier continued her blistering start with 23 points and 12 rebounds, Central’s defense forced 19 turnovers, and the Barons went 16 for 19 at the foul line in the fourth quarter as Central took over sole possession of first place in the Lancaster-Lebanon League Section Three race with a 46-41 win over the Golden Mules in Quarryville.

Central (5-2, 11-4) is a half-game clear of Solanco (5-3, 7-8), which is the defending Section Three champ. Now the Barons are fighting like crazy to pry that title away from the Golden Mules.

“It’s a good position to be in,” first-year Central coach Tyson Hayes said. “But now we have to take it one game at a time. I told the kids yeah, this is awesome. But if we lose out, this doesn’t matter; we’re not going to talk about that one time we won in Quarryville. Now we have to keep winning so we can make those kind of memories.”

This isn’t completely uncharted territory for the Barons. But it’s been a while since Central has been perched atop a section race in a while. The Barons have claimed four L-L League section titles, but none since the 2011-12 season.

Now, Central is the hunted.

“We’ve been working really hard for this, so it means so much to us to be in first place,” Knier said. “We’ll have a target on our backs now. But we’ve been working so hard for this, so we don’t want to give this up. We’ll celebrate this win for a day or so, but then we have to get right back to work.”

Solanco had an early lead Tuesday; Jade Eshelman scored five of her 13 points in the first quarter for the Golden Mules, who had an 8-7 lead. But Central pushed ahead 10-8 as Kassidy Michael had two hoops and Rachel Nolt buried a 3-pointer.

Knier enforced her will in the second quarter with nine points and five boards; her layup gave the Barons a 22-10 cushion, and Central led 26-17 at the half. Solanco never went away, and was within 30-24 heading into the fourth quarter.

BOX SCORE

Eshelman had eight points in the fourth — her driving layup sliced Central’s lead down to 38-32 with 1:31 to go — but forced to foul, the Golden Mules could only watch as the Barons wore out a path to the foul line.

Knier was 8 for 8, Michael was 4 for 5 and Laura Good was 4 for 6, and the Barons survived.

“That was huge,” Knier said. “We won by five, so if we don’t make all of those free throws, this is a much closer game. Those were so important.”

And definitely saved the day for Central, because Solanco kept slugging.

“Hey, there’s still a long way to go,” Solanco coach Chad McDowell said. “We’re still in second place, and we’re still right where we need to be. We still have control of a lot of things, and we’ll see (Central) again over at their place. All we can do now is just go out and play.”

NOTES: Central survived 22 turnovers, after the Golden Mules turned up the pressure in the second half; Solanco forced 13 turnovers after the break. … Paige Phillips’ deep 3-pointer brought Solanco to within 34-30 with 3:05 to go, but Central kept making free throws to fend off all Golden Mules’ comeback attempts. … Olivia Lasko buried a deep trey at the buzzer for Solanco for the final margin. … Solanco out-rebounded Central 30-26. … Michael chipped in with 10 points for the Barons.

TWITTER: @JeffReinhart77

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