Cocalico Topples Garden Spot, Locks Up League Playoff Berth As Eagles Claim Section Three Title Outright
Written by: Dell Jackson on Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021
Just when you thought that the COVID-19 pandemic couldn’t possibly wreak any more havoc, try this on for size. Imagine if you will that you are a team that beat an opponent from within your own division in both of your head-to-head meetings during the season. Now, assume that both you and the team you just swept finish with identical records. Surely you would be the one to get any sort of preferential treatment, say a playoff spot, based on your earlier exploits, right? Well, not exactly.
For Cocalico, a year that began with much promise and optimism started with a bit of a thud when the Eagles were dealt a painful blow in the preseason in learning that 6’8 dynamo, Augie Gerhart, would be sidelined for an undisclosed, but presumably lengthy period. Nevertheless, the group from Denver persevered, ultimately clinching no worse than a share of the Section Three title. But perhaps the biggest reason as to why Cocalico was able to claim a share of the divisional crown was due to their 2-0 season sweep over Lampeter-Strasburg. Interestingly enough, just as of a few days ago, the general consensus in the Eagles’ camp was that if they were to handle their business against the other teams from within the division and then take care of L-S in the final game of the season series, they would then get the nod to head into the Lancaster-Lebanon League playoffs by virtue of each section getting only one representative into the field this year. However, that notion went up in smoke last week when the league made the decision to have one-game playoffs should two teams tie for the section title, regardless of any head-to-head records accrued during the season. Then, as if the story wasn’t already confusing enough, Cocalico would be granted a “Get of Jail Free” card of sorts should L-S trip themselves up against Garden Spot this past Saturday afternoon. Ultimately, that did not happen as L-S was able to best Garden Spot by the slimmest of margins, 54-53, muddying the waters up even further. However, even despite the Pioneers prevailing against the Spartans just two days ago, Cocalico could still clinch their berth into the field outright should they themselves be able to beat Garden Spot in New Holland on Monday night. And as if that wasn’t already enough, consider the fact that Cocalico came into the evening with just one loss against Section Three competition. If you sense where this is going, you’d be right. The Eagles’ lone setback? Yep, against Garden Spot.
So, to make a long story short, the events of the evening boiled down to this from Cocalico’s perspective: Beat Garden Spot and move into the league playoffs. Lose against Garden Spot and then have to face L-S for a third time this year on Tuesday night– jeopardizing their sweep–with the winner of that game locking up Section Three’s single dance ticket.
However, right around the bottom of the eight o’clock hour on Monday evening, the ultimately clock struck midnight for those on the outside who wished to see anyone other than Cocalico advance into the league tournament.
Ironically, the first game played between Cocalico and Garden Spot this season was one where there was no real ebb and flow of the two teams trading buckets back and forth with one another in a consistent fashion. That said, volleys were stilllobbed, but nearly in touchdown-sized proportions where either the Eagles or Spartans would rattle off anywhere from seven to fourteen points at a time against one another it seemed. On Monday night though, the game was far tamer in that regard. Case in point, Garden Spot’s Brendan Weaver and Cocalico’s Brycen Flinton trading trifectas back and forth against one another, with Flinton’s trey resulting in an 8-5 lead in favor of the visitors early on.
Speaking of stellar shooting from beyond the arc, both teams remained white-hot in the opening stanza as far as that was concerned.
Shortly following the aforementioned Flinton 3-ball, Cocalico’sCaleb Sturtevant quickly followed suit as the Eagles’ 6’1 junior forward sprayed in his second triple of the opening eight minutes to give Cocalico the 11-5 cushion before a Garden Spot trey –this one courtesy of 5’5 sophomore guard, Dylan Nolt—got the homestanding Spartans back within three at 11-8 with the first quarter quickly winding down. And once it finally did, Cocalico was able to pad their existing lead up ever so slightly, 14-8.
But perhaps the biggest news of the opening eight minutes? Undoubtedly the fact that it saw the reemergence of Cocalico’s Augie Gerhart back into the Eagles’ rotation for the first time this season. Beset by a wrist injury which had kept him sidelined all year long up until that point, Gerhart wasted no time whatsoever in exercising all of those pesky demons as the Eagles’ 6’8 missing puzzle piece got the ball underneath the cup in opening moments of the second quarter on Monday night before rising up and throwing down an emphatic one-handed dunk, heavily taped-up and all, easily winning the award for most dramatic performance as far as scoring your first points of the season has to be concerned.
To their credit though, Garden Spot was not about to get swept up in all the fanfare surrounding Gerhart’s return. Instead, the Spartans went right back to work, ultimately cutting the deficit down to five at 18-13 following a sweet up-and-under bucket thanks to the handiwork of 5’11 senior, Joe Sharp. However, the Spartans’ momentum was relatively short-lived considering that Cocalico’s Nick Spangler came right down the floor and promptly peppered in a trifecta of his own on the Eagles’ ensuing offensive trip, making it an eight-point Cocalico lead before a picture-perfect Euro-step to the cup by Carter Nunevilleshortly thereafter made it a 23-13 Eagles’ advantage in the waning stages of the second period. Then, with the guests enjoying their largest lead of the evening up until that point following the Nuneville bucket, Cocalico was able to saunter off into the locker room with even more momentum following Caleb Sturtevant’s offensive rebound and finish just moments before the first half horn, making it a 26-15 Cocalico lead once the second half resumed.
Needing someone to take the baton and run with it as far as the Garden Spot contingent was concerned, the Spartans would end up finding their man in their most veteran of players, Joe Sharp. After having witnessed countless battles already during his time while donning a Garden Spot uniform, it probably should not have been any sort of surprise whatsoever to see Sharp come out of the second half firing on all cylinders, eventually tallying the Spartans’ first seven points of the second half, all while cutting the Cocalico lead down to a half dozen at 28-22 with 4:45 left to play in the third.
Yet while harkening back to some of the same vibes which had defined the previous meeting these two old adversaries just a few weeks ago, Cocalico proceeded to close the first half on a bit of run. First up, a man-sized offensive rebound and put-back plus the harm from 6’3 senior forward, Carson Nash, as the Eagles’ workhorse inside capped off a much-needed three-point play, upping the Cocalico lead to 31-22 with 3:30 left to go in the quarter. Then, the man of the hour, Augie Gerhart, proceeded to show off all his finely-tuned weaponry by stepping outside and hitting a cold-blooded 3-ball directly in front of the Eagles’ bench, putting the guests up by twelve at 34-22, before the quarter eventually expired with Cocalico still holding serve, 34-24.
As far as the final period was concerned, Cocalico clearly had interest whatsoever in letting Garden Spot even flirt with the idea of taking this game away from them as well. In the early moments of the fourth, the Eagles turned defense into offense in the most magnificent of fashions seeing as how Carter Nuneville helped lead the Cocalico break before dishing it off to a streaking Caleb Sturtevant in transition, effectively putting the blue-clad Eagles back up by a baker’s dozen at 37-24. But seeing as how he had clearly stolen the show on Monday night, it seemed only fitting that Augie Gerhart author perhaps the game-saving play when he was able to snatch down the offensive rebound before going back up and finishing through contact as the junior’s monumental three-point play kept momentum riding squarely on Cocalico’s bench down the final stretch with the Eagles’ lead now standing at 40-26 with just 6:15 remaining. And although Garden Spot would be able to race back within single digits following a sweet turnaround jumper sunk by another Spartan key senior, Jesse Martin, that would prove to be all the closer the hosts would get for the remainder of the evening as Cocalico was able to keep their adversaries at arm’s length for the remainder of the contest, firmly and officially locking up that Section Three playoff berth by virtue of their 47-35 triumph over Garden Spot on Monday night in New Holland.
“I honestly had no idea. I had no expectations. I just didn’t know. He only got cleared today,” said Sigman in regard to what he thought he’d see from Gerhart in his first action of the season against Garden Spot. “I thought he played really well and did some really good stuff. I mean, without impacting the game on the offensive end at all, he changes shots, he blocked a couple shots…There’s times where teams catch it and they’re going to shoot it and now they’re like, ‘No, I’m not shooting that,’ because he’s in there and he impacts your aggressiveness inside to where you don’t want to get your shot to get smacked against the wall or pinned against the glass,” Sigman continued while lauding Gerhart’s overall impact on both ends of the floor. “I was impressed with him defensively.”
“Offensively, he got a couple of offensive rebounds and he even hit a 3 right in front of us. So yes, I was very pleased with what he gave us,” said Sigman with a light-hearted laugh. “I think it helped us that (Gerhart) was there all preseason and was there for our scrimmage, so it wasn’t completely foreign to go to that type of rotation because we already had it a little bit,” Sigman added. “The guys all want him to play obviously. They know he makes us better.”
And yes, while Augie Gerhart’s return certainly added fuel to Cocalico’s fire, the idea that the Eagles still needed to beat Garden Spot on Monday night in order to essentially prove that they had knocked off L-S twice this season to avoid playing the Pioneers for a third time this year on Tuesday night did something far greater from within the Eagles’ camp: It galvanized them.
“We did not want to share the section title at all,” Sigman said bluntly. “That was not something we were interested with in any way. We wanted this one to be just Cocalico’s in a very selfish and self-serving way. That was definitely discussed in our locker room. Any other year, it’d be done already. Coming into this game tonight, it’d be done. We beat L-S 2-0, head-to-head, that should be all there is to it. Now, we decided to change (the qualifying parameters), so let’s go freaking finish this thing off. So yes, there was absolutely motivation there and our kids knew. Our kids knew what was on the line.”
NEXT UP: For Cocalico, Monday night’s triumph against Garden Spot means that the Eagles earn their second consecutive bid into the L-L League tournament, this time as the outright Section Three champion. Now the Eagles must await their fate, as well as their travel itinerary, as Cocalico will travel to the Section Two champion on Thursday night against the winner of Tuesday night’s game between Lebanon and Warwick.
For Garden Spot, the Spartans will return to their home floor on Tuesday night when they welcome the Donegal Indians into town for a Section Three/Section Four
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