Spring Grove led Saturday night's York-Adams League boys' basketball title game for all of 38 seconds.
Yet, that's all it needed to erase 45 years worth of anguish and capture the program's first league title since 1971, knocking off Central York, 42-36, in the Y-A League championship game at York College's Grumbacher Center.
The go-ahead bucket came from junior Eli Brooks, who knocked down a corner 3-pointer to give the Rockets (22-2) their first lead of the game at 38-36. It came one possession after he buried his first three of the night to pull Spring Grove to within 36-35. And really, his hot shooting was the story of the fourth quarter.
Entering the final frame, both the Rockets and the Panthers struggled to get anything going offensively. Central (20-3) held a 27-21 lead going into the final quarter, an offensive game that was more indicative of a basketball game played before the 3-point line era. But, Brooks caught fire in the fourth and with senior Darin Gordon fouling out early in the fourth quarter, he carried Spring Grove.
Brooks scored 17 of his game-high 26 points in the final frame and all but four of the Rockets' 21 points in the quarter.
"I just kind of felt it," he said about his fourth quarter performance. "Basketball is about just staying in the game and if shots don't fall, you just gotta keep shooting if you're a scorer."
That's exactly what he had to do, too. As the player on Spring Grove that makes the offense go, as he struggled, so too did the Rockets' offense. Going into the fourth, he was just 4-of-14 from the floor and 0-for-5 from deep. Yet, something clicked in the fourth, starting with his coast-to-coast and-1 that kick-started Spring Grove's final 17-6 run that helped it erase a five-point deficit early in the fourth quarter.
That was followed by a Liam Flaherty layup and then it was back to the Eli Brooks Show for the remainder of the quarter, before Grant Wierman's two free throw's with 10 seconds left sealed the victory.
"Eli's a big-shot kind of guy and for us to be in that position — we wouldn't be in this position if it wasn't for him hitting some tough shots," Rockets' head coach James Brooks said. "And if it's down to the end, it doesn't really matter when Eli's taking it, I feel confident and so does he."
Championship nerves were apparent from both teams right out of the gate. Both teams struggled to get into any sort of rhythm in seeing the ball go through the hoop. After one quarter, the Panthers held a 13-5 lead that subtly moved to 18-12 by halftime. In the third quarter, Central opened up its biggest advantage in the contest, opening a 24-14 lead, but got outscored 28-12 the rest of the way.
"I think we both just came out hyped out," Eli Brooks said about the slow start. "Some of the times it doesn't work out for each person's favor. It just settled down in the third and fourth."
The victory for Spring Grove also helped it avenge its only two prior defeats on the year, both against the Panthers by 53-50 scores.
Much like with the Rockets, Central was a one-man show offensively. Senior Jared Wagner, who will be playing more basketball in his future at York College after committing to the school earlier this year, carried the scoring load for the Panthers. He finished the night with 17 points, the only player on his team to reach double figures. The next closest teammate was Nathan Markey and Onterio Edmonds, who both finished with seven points.
For Spring Grove, after Brooks' 26, there was very little support. Senior Grant Wierman finished the night second on the team with five points, while Gordon, who will also play college basketball at York College next fall, fouled out with only four points.
Regardless of how ugly the game was or how imbalanced the scoring load was, the only thing that matters is that the league title drought for the Rockets ended.
"It really means a lot," Gordon said about winning the championship. "When I came in as a freshman, I knew that one of my goals on the team was to take the program from something where — we're not known as a basketball school when I started — so my goal was to take that and turn us into a basketball school again and I think we really did that."
For both teams, the next step now is the District 3-AAAA tournament. Central York enters the tournament as the No. 1 team in the field, while Spring Grove is the No. 4 seed.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org