The old adage is that you want to be playing your best brand of basketball heading into the home stretch. Well in the case of the Garden Spot Spartans, that phrase was more than just wishful thinking. It had become a stone cold fact.
Coming into their Saturday afternoon game against perennial District 3 stalwart Wilson, the Spartans were on a tear to say the least. Winners of their last four, the Spartans entered Saturday afternoon’s tussle coming off back to back monster wins within the Section 2 standings, including a victory over Ephrata on Friday night to the tune of a 64-48, which brought out the brooms to signify Garden Spot’s sweep of a very, very good Mountaineer squad this year.
In many ways, Garden Spot’s three day bonanza of games were monumental to the two postseason tournaments the Spartans were still alive and kicking for. On Thursday and Friday, the Spartans’ two triumphs over Cocalico and Ephrata were monumental for their chances of securing a bid to this year’s L-L League tournament. Saturday on the other hand offered the Spartans the opportunity to bolster their District 3 playoff resume with what would be a monumental victory on the homecourt of the current #6 team in 6A, the Wilson Bulldogs, who appear to be angling towards yet another postseason run of their own.
Right from the outset on Saturday, it was apparent that Garden Spot was up for the fight. Although Wilson would score the initial bucket of the contest, the Spartans retaliated with an answer as a 4-0 run authored by the visitors from New Holland gave GS their first lead of the game at 4-2 following a Keontae Nunn reverse finish at the cup just two minutes in. From there, Garden Spot would go on to see their lead swell to four later on in the first quarter following a 5-0 blitz courtesy of star senior guard Jordan Shewbridge which made it 9-5 Spartan lead at the 4:45 mark of the opening quarter.
Despite the fact that Garden Spot was able to garner the first initial separation between the two teams on Saturday afternoon, Wilson was right there to prove why their program is one of the most-established and respected amongst all of District 3. Right on cue, the Bulldogs recognized their early hole and came back with a vengeance as beautiful two man hi-lo game between Bryce Calloway and Sean McAndrew shrunk the Spartan lead down to just a deuce at 11-9 at the one minute mark before a Stevie Mitchell trifecta sliced Garden Spot’s advantage down to just a point at 13-12 with the quarter winding down before the opening period eventually came to a close with Garden Spot in front, leading 15-12 thanks to Jonathan Morales floater right before the buzzer was put home for the Spartans.
Once the second stanza got underway, the game quickly turned into the Jordan Shewbridge Show. Getting it done on both ends, the diminutive but courageous Spartan senior guard showed off his talent and heart by first taking a charge on the defensive end before finding teammate Andrew Zenter slip inside for the easy Garden Spot deuce which put the Spartans up 18-14.
Back and forth theme became the theme that encapsulated the first half. And never was that put on display more than over the next several minutes as Wilson steadily caught up to their guests before eventually surpassing them on the scoreboard to regain the lead at 21-20 following a Sean McAndrew flip in the paint midway through the second quarter.
And although Mr. Shewbridge would have the immediate answer for Garden Spot which put the Spartans back in front, Wilson too would have an answer for that as a pair of Bryce Calloway freebies from the charity stripe put Wilson back on top 26-24 before both teams later went into the locker room deadlocked at 26 apiece going into the intermission.
Once again, back and forth was the name of the game once the second half got underway. Only this time it would be Wilson who would have the first say of things in the third quarter as an offensive board and stick back put home by Bulldog senior forward Josh Figura made it a two point Wilson cushion only to see a 3 ball popped by you guessed right, Jordan Shewbridge, gave the lead back to Garden Spot 32-30 at the 5:45 mark of the third period. But that also just so happened to be the point where Wilson would make their move.
Sometimes in basketball it’s the not always the flashy plays that make the difference in winning and losing. In fact, more often than not, it is the down and dirty type hustle plays that give teams the secret sauce to help come out on top. For Wilson on Saturday afternoon, look no further than Connor Uhrig’s hustle play midway through the third quarter.
Only being able to trade body blows with Garden Spot up until that point in the contest and not being able to gain much in the way of separation, the Bulldogs needed a spark to give them some extra juice and added momentum. Trailing 34-32, a loose ball went bounding towards the sidelines in front of the Wilson bench that appeared to mark the end of another Bulldog offensive possession. Not so fast. Like a bolt of lightning, Connor Uhrig dashed after the loose pill, flipping the ball behind his back in order to help save the offensive possession which the basketball gods looked upon with favor as a Logan Horst bucket inside capped off the Wilson offensive trip which knotted things up at 34-34, but clearly gave Wilson an extra bounce in their step that did not yet display up until that point in the contest.
And from there, Wilson went on to close the third quarter with a 10-2 salvo to send the game into the final eight minutes with Wilson in command, leading 44-36.
The eight point margin that Wilson was able to enjoy at the conclusion of the third frame would see itself morph into a ten point gap to start the final quarter as a pretty spot up jumper from the foul line knocked in by Bulldog junior forward Bryce Calloway made it a 46-36 Wilson advantage in the opening stages of the fourth.
Staring at a now double digit deficit with just a few minutes to go, time was of the essence for Garden Spot to answer back if their dreams of returning home late Saturday afternoon with a big win in their pocket were to come to fruition. Just right then, Garden Spot senior guard Cam Roth checked into the ballgame and delivered with a timely 3 ball in the corner which cut the Bulldog lead down to just a touchdown at 48-41 with 6:16 left to play. From there, the Bulldog lead would rapidly shrink down to five following a strong take to the rack by senior guard Jacob Arndt before the Spartans later closed the gap down to just three at 48-45 following a pair of Shewbridge freebies from the charity stripe coming on the heels of the his second charge of the contest.
Although Garden Spot would be able to get within three, Wilson would be push the Spartans back with a 4-0 run from there with all their points coming at the foul line following 2-2 trips from Bryce Calloway and Connor Uhrig respectively to make it a 52-45 Bulldog advantage with just 1:32 left to go.
But Wilson wouldn’t exactly be able exhale the rest of the way. No, the Spartans would continue to keep hanging around as a 2-2 trip from the line by Jacob Arndt followed up by a trifecta rained down by junior guard Matthew Sharp cut Wilson’s lead down to 53-50 with 51.1 remaining.
After Connor Uhrig was able to knock down one at the line following the ensuing Garden Spot foul, the Spartans would close the gap down to just two at 54-52 following a sweet turnaround jumper by junior dynamo Keontae Nunn with 30 seconds now left to tick off the clock.
From there on out, foul shooting proved to be the difference between who would prevail victorious. After Kyle Coldren was able to knock home a freebie which made it a three point Bulldog advantage at 55-52, Garden Spot would not be able to get off one of their trademark triples on their next offensive possession as the Spartans were fouled just across the timeline which sent GS to line with a 1-1 opportunity upcoming.
Unfortunately for those who made the trip up to Berks County from the Lancaster countryside, the front end of the 1-1 danced off the rim with a host of Bulldogs being able to sky and snatch the critical defensive rebound before subsequently being fouled which sent Bryce Calloway to line with aspirations of closing things out. And sure enough the junior forward showed off his moxie by calmly knocking both down the pair, giving Wilson the hard-fought 57-52 triumph over a very game Garden Spot bunch in a crucial late season nonleague affair.
NEXT UP: Although Garden Spot came up short on Saturday, it’s vital to remember that all the Spartans’ goals still remain very much on the table. It surely won’t be easy though as the Spartans will look to close things out regarding a possible spot in the L-L playoff field as the Spartans look at the calendar and see two critical games next week against Donegal and L-S before finishing off the regular season with E-Town, Manheim Central, and Solanco. If the Spartans are able to handle their business within league down the home stretch, Garden Spot will all but be assured of securing a District 3 playoff spot. And with the crop of guards at their disposal that have the ability to slice and dice you coupled with their ability to step out from behind the arc and knock down a triple or two, teams will likely have many restless nights while having to prepare for the Spartans in a one and done type scenario.
For Wilson, the road to the postseason doesn’t exactly get any easier for the Bulldogs either. Faced with an upcoming week that sees familiar faces Exeter and Muhlenberg on the schedule, Wilson will have an even bigger week after that with a roadtrip to long-time rival Governor Mifflin before another boarding of the bus to Berks Catholic, with the Saints being anything but a cherry on top.