SPRING GROVE — Having played twice this season, Spring Grove and New Oxford were no strangers to each other on Monday night.
The Rockets knew New Oxford could shoot 3-pointers, and the Colonials certainly were aware of the damage that Eli Brooks was capable of doing.
What New Oxford didn’t anticipate, however, was Jacob Messersmith putting on a shooting clinic, particularly in the first half, when the senior guard had 15 points to help lead Spring Grove to a surprisingly easy 73-46 victory in the opening round of the District 3 Class 5A boys' basketball playoffs. The victory sends the No. 4 seed Rockets (19-6) to the quarterfinals Thursday night, when they’ll host No. 5 seed Manheim Central, a 71-51 winner over No. 12 seed Waynesboro.
Entering Monday, Messersmith’s previous career high was 10 points. He finished with 20 against the 13th-seeded Colonials (11-11).
“We shot poorly and Messersmith shot the lights out,” New Oxford coach Sean Bair said after seeing his team lose to Spring Grove for the third time this season. “We’ve now given up career highs this year to (Austin) Panter, (Drew) Gordon and now Messersmith. Spring Grove always finds a way … that’s what I love about that team, except when I have to coach against them."
Messersmith connected on four 3-pointers in the first four minutes, when Spring Grove built a 19-7 advantage. Other than a 2-2 tie, the Rockets led the entire contest.
“It just came to me (tonight),” said Messersmith after the game, while among some Spring Grove well-wishers who packed the gym. “I was able to get my feet set and I was open. Fortunately, the shots went down. Coach Brooks stressed that we needed to set picks for Eli to get him open, and if we did that, it would open up things for the rest of us.”
New Oxford managed to cut the gap to 27-20 midway through the second quarter on back-to-back 3-pointers by Jordan Brown and Ben Lehman (who finished with 17 points), but the Rockets righted the ship and scored five unanswered points to make it 32-20 with three minutes remaining in the half. Before the half was over, Messersmith added another 3-pointer and the Rockets led 37-26 at the break.
Messersmith’s contributions were even more valuable because teammate Drew Gordon was coming off a bout with pneumonia, and the Rockets weren’t sure how he would hold up.
“We had Drew back working out on Saturday, but we didn’t know what he would have left,” Rockets’ coach James Brooks said. “But our hope every game is to get one more scorer other than Eli, and maybe more if we get up and down the floor. Jacob is the only guy who used to beat Eli in shooting competitions when they were growing up, so if he can get his feet set, that’s the key.
“Any time teams get in a box and one against us, we tell our guys to get in spots they’re comfortable at to get shots, and Jake is allowed to shoot as much as he wants as long as he gets those feet set.”
Eli Brooks still finished as the Rockets’ top scorer with 21 points, including a spectacular dunk in the third quarter when Spring Grove outscored New Oxford 19-9.
But the Michigan-bound standout was thrilled with Messersmith’s success.
“I was really happy for him because I see how hard he works in practice,” Brooks said. “He can really shoot and Jake showed that tonight.”
The victory guaranteed a spot in the PIAA state playoffs for the Rockets. Ten teams from District 3 will qualify for the Class 5A tournament. Meanwhile, New Oxford still has a chance as well. The Colonials will move into the consolation bracket and travel to Waynesboro on Thursday.
OTHER DISTRICT 3
Palmyra 61, Dover 53: At Palmyra, Keith Davis poured in 22 points for the Eagles, but it wasn't enough to prevent the loss in a District 3 Class 5-A opener. The loss dropped Dover (14-10) into the consolation quarterfinals. The 14th-seeded Eagles will travel to 11th-seeded Garden Spot (14-9) at 7 p.m. Thursday, with the loser being eliminated. Palmyra (20-3), meanwhile, will play host to sixth-seeded Milton Hershey (18-4) on Thursday in the quarterfinals. The Spartans defeated Garden Spot 73-59 in the first round Monday. The third-seeded Cougars also clinched a state playoff berth. Braden Vernet had 21 points to pace Palmyra. Dover led at halftime, 28-26, but couldn't hold on.
Schuylkill Valley 50, Biglerville 44: At Schuylkill Valley, the Canners saw their season end, losing to the Panthers. Ninth-seeded Biglerville (13-10) led by as many as seven points in the third quarter and held a two-point lead going into the final quarter, but got outscored 12-4 by eighth-seeded Schuylkill Valley to fall in the 4-A first-round contest. Noah Ayers had 19 points for the Canners. Tyler Worrell led the Panthers with 16 points.
Lancaster Mennonite 80, Delone Catholic 54: At Lancaster, the sixth-seeded Squires were eliminated from the Class 3-A tournament by the No. 3 Blazers. Brady Alexander and Evan Brady each scored 14 points to lead Delone Catholic (12-12), but the visitors were no match for Mennonite (22-3), which had five players in double figures, led by Richard Rosas' 18 points. The Blazers will now face No. 2 seed York Catholic (21-2) on Thursday night at Red Land High School at 6:30.
Reach George Hammond at email@example.com.