Graduation. It’s a time typically met with upmost joy that pairs nicely with pure, unbridled excitement. But forgive Garden Spot boys’ basketball coach Nate Musselman and Northern Lebanon head man Chris George if they weren’t seen doing much in the way of celebrating at the end of the last school year. After all, out of all the squads that reside in the Lancaster-Lebanon League, you could easily make the argument that both the Spartans and Vikings were the ones hardest hit by the ceremonies involving caps and gowns.
When speaking in terms of last year, the 2017-18 seasons were certainly memorable ones for both Garden Spot and Northern Lebanon as each qualified for both the league and district playoffs last winter. And in terms of the grandest of stages, the state tournament, the Spartans were able to lay claim to that honor, with the Vikings coming within just one game of doing so themselves.
But make no mistake about it. Even though both clubs were essentially tasked with pushing the reset button thanks to drastic roster overhauls after such successful campaigns posted just one year ago, the start to this season hasn’t exactly been all doom and gloom for either side.
After starting the season off with an 0-2 showing at their traditional starting point of the Twin Valley Tip-Off Tournament, Garden Spot has been able to right the ship and respond nicely to their first dose of adversity this season by proceeding to win two of their last three ballgames, the last of which was an impressive road win last time out at Octorara, a traditional basketball power that is still learning to find their way in this their inaugural season playing in the L-L League.
On the other side, there simply has not been a group of ballers in all the L-L that has defined the true meaning of the word resiliency through the first portion of this season quite like Northern Lebanon.
For such a young and relatively “green” squad coming into the year, this group of assembled Vikings have played well beyond their years behind the perfect mixture of poise and fearlessness best evidenced by the Vikes’ two overtime triumphs already this season—a season mind you that is just only five games old. Yet even when we they’re not winning games in extra time, the Vikings still maintain a headiness and overall flair for the dramatics as viewed in Monday night’s last-second crossover triumph against Cocalico at home, 48-46.
So with both sides eager to keep their early week momentum going after well-deserved wins on Monday night, the Vikings and Spartans were set to come together on Wednesday night in New Holland with the victor headed into Friday night and the upcoming Christmas break with an extra amount of pep in their step.
But one thing would become perfectly clear after the first few minutes on Wednesday evening: This one would totally belong to Garden Spot.
Early on, Wednesday’s affair between the home-standing Spartans the visiting Vikings would see things get knotted up at 6-6 following a successful trifecta dialed up from Northern Lebanon guard Josh Bowers. But from that point on, the Spartans had their way.
Following a strong bucket plus the foul added on top thanks to the efforts of Garden Spot senior guard Josiah Snader, the Spartans quickly found themselves in possession of the 10-6 advantage with 3:20 left in the opening stanza. For the remainder of the quarter onward, the Spartans would be able to build upon their lead, closing the first quarter in style with another tough bucket inside, this one way by of 5’8 sophomore Joe Sharp, ending the opening period with Garden Spot on top of their guests, 12-6.
Once the second period got underway, it only proved to be more of the same from Garden Spot.
After an early second quarter drive to the cup by way of one of the best point guards around, Garden Spot’s senior triggerman Keontae Nunn, the Spartans continued to double-up their hosts by virtue of the 16-8 lead with 6:10 left to play in the half.
But they weren’t even close to being finished with their work.
Shortly after Nunn’s drive to the tin, the diminutive but scrappy point guard immediately assumed the role of facilitator and proceeded to get his teammates involved. Never more was that apparent than with his marvelous behind-the-back pass to Jon Morales who would finish through contact, upping the Spartans’ lead to 20-8 with still 5:20 left in the second quarter. And with the deficit already standing at a healthy dozen for Northern Lebanon, Garden Spot continued to compound matters for their guests following a pair of freebies cashed in at the line from big-man Andrew Zentner, making it a two touchdown lead for the Spartans at 24-10 with 2:10 left to go in the opening half.
Ironically, their dominance wasn’t strictly limited to the offensive end either.
With the Spartans looking to close the half with nothing short of something that could be described as an exclamation mark given their efforts up until that point in the opening half, Garden Spot got exactly what doctor ordered in the form of a sensational Austin Skowood rejection late in the half, sending the Spartans into the intermission with the commanding 24-10 cushion.
And wouldn’t you know it, the Spartans would pick up exactly where they left off once play resumed.
Ignited by a bucket plus the foul put home by Jon Morales on the Spartans’ first offensive trip of the third period, the third quarter quickly morphed into “The Andrew Zentner Show” with Zentner proceeding to rattle off a 7-0 run all by his lonesome, capping things off with trifecta from the top of the key, making it a 33-12 affair in favor of the hometown team.
But as mentioned, that wouldn’t be the last the folks in New Holland would see from Zentner. Not by a long shot.
After exploding on his aforementioned personal 7-0 run which helped Garden Spot create even more separation up the scoreboard, Zentner and his teammates decided they weren’t exactly done having fun just yet. And on a mid-third quarter runout situation which saw Keontae Nunn leading the break for the Spartans, GS’ savvy senior guard dropped a perfect dime to his streaking big man trailing behind him as Zentner elevated up off the gymnasium floor and finished off his actions with a two-handed dunk as Zentner’s two-handed act of aggression upon the rim got everyone up off their feet.
The thing was though, that wouldn’t even be his nicest one.
With the third frame rapidly winding down, Garden Spot found themselves trying to run some halfcourt offense in order to possibly generate another bucket before the quarter was over and done with. Sure enough, they got precisely what they were looking for with Zentner prowling along the baseline where Garden Spot sophomore guard Jesse Martin would find him from the opposite elbow-extended, lobbing up a picture-perfect lob pass for Zentner who would throw this one down as well, emphatically sending Garden Spot into the final stanza with the 48-12 lead.
Yet even with the final outcome well-decided, the game’s final eight minutes provided an opportunity for some other Spartans to check into the game and partake of the action. Case in point, Garden Spot junior guard Brady Conroy who was able to splash in a corner triple to help contribute to the Spartans’ effort, making an already enjoyable evening all that more spectacular.
So, with the game starting to wind down, Northern Lebanon continued to demonstrate some of that same resiliency that has come to define them thus far by ending the game on a 7-0 run with deuces cashed in by Ethan Borcky and Peyton Wolfe respectively before an Alex Folmer 3-ball would close things out for good. But that time, the hill was simply too great to climb as Garden Spot would find themselves victorious by virtue of their decisive 51-23 triumph over the visitors from Fredericksburg.
NEXT UP: With Wednesday night’s dominating victory already in their back pocket, Garden Spot will look to head into the Christmas break on an incredible uptick as the Spartans will set their sights on Donegal back at home on Friday night in New Holland for a chance to rightfully call themselves winners of four of their last five ballgames.
For Northern Lebanon, the Vikings will look to quickly wash away the bitter taste of Wednesday night’s defeat when they look to start anew at practice on Thursday and begin their studies for the Solanco Golden Mules who come to town on Friday night. Interestingly enough, it will be a game that features the L-L League’s most northern and southern outposts coming together to square off against one another before the Christmas holiday.