Garden Spot Makes A Statement, Upends Cocalico In Latest Edition Of Section Three Chaos
Written by: Andy Herr on Friday, January 29th, 2021
Over the course of a long and winding high school basketball season, no team is truly to immune the many ebbs and flows in terms of momentum, or lack thereof, that comes attached at the hip for such a long duration of time. In fact, for as much natural God-given talent that one team may possess, it is perhaps a team’s collective ability to handle both adversity and success that is arguably the truest test of how “good” they may truly be. Ironically, given the current snapshot in time for both Cocalico and Garden Spot respectively, that notion could not have proven to be more accurate.
Coming into Thursday evening’s Section Three tussle, albeit while using a very small sample size, Cocalico and Garden Spot could not have entered the late week contest in Denver any more different from one another had they tried. For Cocalico, in a season which began with lofty expectations both inside and outside of the program, the Eagles had largely been able to live up to the billing thus far considering they entered the night while owning sole possession of first place in the division, thanks in large part to their thrilling win over Lampeter-Strasburg last week, a win which was arguably the best that any team in the entire Lancaster-Lebanon League had been able to boast up until this point in the still relatively young year. Since then however, the Eagles got knocked back on their collective heels somewhat given their 13-point home loss at the hands of Conrad Weiser on Monday night, a game in which Cocalico simply had a difficult time throwing it in the ocean to put it rather mildly. To be sure, the main objective in the Cocalico camp had to be not having one loss metastasize into two when they welcomed the Spartans into town.
Speaking of the Spartans, perhaps there has been no greater mystery in the entire L-L League this year than Garden Spot. Sure, some of that may have been due to the fact that Spot had to endure a COVID shutdown seemingly right out of the gate to start the season, but it also was perhaps the fact that the Spartans’ resume simply lacked any great “wow” factor up until this point. Fair enough, but it’s still hard to ignore a team that had been able to turn their fortunes around and head into the home of the Section Three leader on Thursday coming off two consecutive wins just prior against Twin Valley and Solanco respectively.
Suffice to say, given two teams heading into their head-to-head matchup with momentum dancing delicately on the razor’s edge for both –especially with first place riding on the line no less—Thursday night’s contest between Cocalico and Garden Spot figured to have massive ramifications for either side in the both the short and long-term range forecasts in the respective seasons for each given what would happen at the end of 32 minutes. Well, maybe a little more than 32 minutes as it turned out.
In the early going, Cocalico couldn’t have started out much hotter. Well, Brycen Flinton to be more precise. Over the course of the opening three minutes on Thursday night, the Eagles’ 5’11 junior guard got off to a torrid start, scoring the host’s first eight points of the evening –including a pair of trifectas from beyond the arc—to put Cocalico up 8-2 before anyone in the limited crowd really had a chance to get settled into their seats.
On the back-end of Flinton’s early flurry however, Garden Spot proved to be more than up for the challenge at hand.
In fact, for as much as Flinton had been able to take over the controls of the Cocalico ship in the early minutes, one of Garden Spot’s most battled tested of players, senior guard Jesse Martin, was able to retaliate right back for his troops by scoring the Spartans’ next six to knot things up at 8-8 shortly thereafter, before a bucket inside by Spot’s 6’5 junior forward, Brendan Weaver, gave the visitors from New Holland their first lead of the evening at 10-8 with the first quarter clock just having ticked under the four-minute mark. From there, the Garden Spot lead only continued to swell as back-to-back buckets by way of sophomore guard, Jahvar Hammond, made it a 14-8 Spartans’ lead, forcing Cocalico to call a timeout with 2:34 left in the opening period after having surrendered a 12-0 run after their hot start.
Ironically, the Eagles ended up returning the favor.
Ignited by a pair of triples sunk by Flinton and Trey Rios respectively on Cocalico’s ensuing offensive trips coming out of the timeout, the homestanding Eagles were able to soar back into the lead at 16-14 before yet another 3-ball, this one knocked down by Rios just before the first quarter horn, capped off the impromptu Cocalico 14-0 blitzkrieg, making it a 22-14 Eagles’ lead after a wild back and forth opeing quarter between the two familiar foes. Ironically, coming off a game in which Cocalico simply could not shoot with any morsel of consistency, the Eagles appeared no worse for the wear considering they had just poured in five triples over the course of the game’s opening eight minutes.
In the second quarter, the volleys lobbed back and forth between the two teams were back on display.
In fact, Garden Spot was able to string together a 6-0 salvo to start the second quarter proceedings, capped off by trey knocked down way of 5’8 senior guard, Jonathan Vega, bringing the Spartans back within a pair at 22-20 over the course of the opening two minutes of the frame. Over the course of the next four minutes, Garden Spot was able to trim the Cocalico down to just one at 27-26 following a sweet bucket in the lane from the Spartans’ 6’2 senior big man who doesn’t appear to have an ounce of body fat on him, John Dykie. However, that would prove to be all the closer the Spartans would get for the remainder of the opening half as a pair of buckets inside from Carter Nuneville and Caleb Sturtevant respectively over the final minutes and change helped send Cocalico into the dressing room with the 31-26 lead.
Shocking development I’m sure given the way in which the first half had unfolded, but the start of the third quarter was also ear-marked by an early charge. This time, it happened to come from Garden Spot.
After spotting Cocalico a Brycen Flinton drive to the rack on the Eagles’ opening offensive possession to the start the second half —-good for two more en route to his game-high 21-point performance by the way—the Spartans rallied back and authored an 8-1 rebuttal to follow suit, knotting things back up at 34-34 following a bucket courtesy of Garden Spot’s impressive young guard, Jahvar Hammond, at the 5:20 mark of the third. A minute later, Garden Spot was ultimately able to crest the Cocalico hill thanks to a gorgeous two-man game shared between Jesse Martin and John Dykie, with Dykie going on to finish the exchange off with the hoop plus the harm after the being the receipt of the sweet feed from Martin, effectively putting the Spartans back in front at 36-34.
Fittingly of course, a Cocalico-engineered run came about right on cue. In fact, it ended up being an 8-1 retaliation once all was said and done, thanks in large part to pair of 3-balls sunk by Nick Spangler and Nuneville respectively, ushering Cocalico into the final frame with ownership of the 42-37 advantage.
Granted, while Cocalico was able to build their lead up to as many as eight at the onset of the fourth quarter thanks to an old-fashioned three-point play from Flinton which made it a 45-37 affair, if you would have guessed that an impending Garden Spot charge were to immediately come about, you’d be eligible for some sort of cash prize.
Plagued by a nasty bout with the turnover bug all game long, Cocalico had been besieged by it once again in the waning moments of final stanza considering that a theft and layup from Garden Spot’s George Rohrbaugh got the Spartans ever so closer to overtaking the lead as the 5’9 junior guard made it a 45-42 ballgame heading into the final few minutes. From there, Garden Spot would eventually be able to pull back even thanks to a monstrous triple cashed in by way of Jonathan Vega as the Garden Spot senior made things all square at 45-45 with two minutes left to go. Then, on the Spartans’ ensuing trip down the floor, the gray-clad guests were able to go back in front thanks to the smooth turnaround jumper in the lane nailed by Brendan Weaver, handing the lead back to Garden Spot at 47-45 with 1:17 now left to play. And if you’re keeping track at home, mark that latest rally down as a 10-0 charge in Garden Spot’s favor.
By now, if you know anything about the 2020-21 edition of Cocalico Boys’ Basketball, chances are that you could have already guessed as to who would end up having the ball in their hands with the game hanging in the balance. That said, it should’ve come as a surprise to absolutely no one that Cocalico’s 6’3 senior wing, Carter Nuneville, proceeded to answer right back for his squad with a cold-blooded floater in the lane on the Eagles’ ensuing offensive possession following Weaver’s go-ahead bucket just moments earlier, making it a 47-47 game with the game now inside of a minute.
However, after Garden Spot proceeded to come up empty and Cocalico would end up squandering their game-winning opportunity away with an untimely turnover, an extra session was where things were ultimately headed at the end of a wild 32 minutes of play with Cocalico and Garden Spot heading into the extra period at 47-47.
At the onset of overtime, both sides came out swinging.
Case in point, Garden Spot’s Jesse Martin knocking down a massive 3-ball on the Spartans’ opening trip of extra time, only to then bear witness to Carter Nuneville coming right back with a trey of his own on the Eagles’ ensuing possession, making it a 50-50 contest. Shortly thereafter, Cocalico was able to go back in front following a timely jumper knocked down by the Eagles’ man of the hour, Brycen Flinton, making it a 53-52 Cocalico lead inside the game’s waning moments.
If you’re looking for a protagonist who eventually emerges from this wild high school basketball contest, may I suggest pointing to Garden Spot’s Brendan Weaver?
After playing a marvelous game for the Spartans all night long up until that point while using his lanky 6’5 frame to his great advantage, his size largely helped prove to be the reason as to why Garden Spot was able to return home on this bitterly cold night feeling just a little bit warmer given the way in which the final minute and change would later unfold.
First, needing a bucket to go back in front following the aforementioned Flinton jumper which had put them back down by a penny, Weaver was able to go back to work inside and come up with a fantastic, tough-as-nails turnaround jumper in the lane to put Garden Spot back on top at 54-53. Lastly, after having just played the role of hero down on the offensive end of the floor, it was more than apropos to then see Weaver both literally and figuratively reject away the notion of a Cocalico walk-off win on the Eagles’ last gasp as Weaver’s last-second swat of a would-be Cocalico shot at the horn prompted a dogpile celebration near the scorer’s table once the final buzzer sounded, effectively putting the exclamation point on Garden Spot’s thrilling 54-53 overtime win inside the home of the section leader.
Suffice to say, seeing the Garden Spot topple the section leader on their own home floor may have been a surprise to some. “Some” not including Spartans’ head coach Nate Musselman nor his troops mind you.
“Absolutely. 100 percent. 100 percent,” a jubilant Musselman said standing outside his team’s victorious locker room when asked if he and his squad were aware that they were underdog coming into the night and largely for the remainder of the season at large while residing in a totally loaded Section Three. “We always kind of just found ourselves in the month of December in a long, normal season,” the head man went on to say emphasizing the gradual nature of his recent teams whose exploits have included L-L League and PIAA tournament bids to name just a few achievements. “Every time we started to get rolling, it was kind of through January and into the start of February. We’re 30 days late this year and (his team) take offence to that.”
Even still, it was right back to the grind for the Spartans as they exited Denver late on Thursday evening.
“We’re going back to work tomorrow,” Musselman added. “Bottom line, my guys just work hard. I can’t ask for anything else.” Speaking of work and things to improve upon, consistency might as well be the phrase that Garden Spot uses the break down team huddles from here on out the rest of the way. “If we don’t turn the ball over, we can be an issue,” said Musselman before saying with a light-hearted laugh, “That’s kind of the vein of my existence right now.”
Fair enough, but even when sharing in a jovial moment, there was still a keen understanding that Thursday night against Cocalico was no by means what Garden Spot hopes ends up being the high-water mark for them the remainder of the season. In many ways, the game against the Eagles could have just as easily served as the blueprint for Garden Spot the rest of the way.
“That’s part of our consistency that we have to work on,” said Musselman in regard to the massive runs during the game on Thursday night that his team both claimed, but also surrendered at times. “We have to work on just ‘staying’ there,” the head Spartan said of the importance his team needed to have in terms of not wavering to wild momentum shifts. “(Cocalico) is too good. Carter Nuneville is too good. Trey Rios is too good. Augie (Gerhart) too whenever they get him back,” he said while lauding the competition on the opposite bench. “Again though, I credit our kids for continuing to fight. The game was up and down the whole way. If we can just stay there at that high level, I like our chances.”
“When we started off 0-4, that might’ve been a product of our schedule,” Mussleman added of his team’s sluggish start which may have kept the early season spotlight away from his bunch. “Now we have it rolling a little bit. But we talked about it there in the locker room. It’s one day at a time, one game at a time. Tomorrow, it’s practice and we’ll go on from there.”
NEXT UP: Where the Garden Spot will go now to be more precise is over to Manheim to tangle with the Barons on Tuesday night when the white-hot Spartans put their three-game win streak on the line against a Barons’ team that cannot afford much more in terms of further slippage when comes to perhaps hoisting a section title banner come season’s end. Yet as Coach Mussleman stressed repeatedly in the postgame on Thursday night, there’s no logical reason not to think that Garden Spot can’t also be a factor in the eventual title chase given that they too are currently sitting on level ground with a 2-2 mark in the division.
For Cocalico, the pregame goal of not having one loss morph into two did not come to fruition. Now, that same challenge becomes even greater for the Eagles considering that they must now go on the road for a pair of trips to the southern end of the county against Solanco and Lampeter-Strasburg respectively, the latter of which will undoubtedly seeing a Pioneers’ squad licking their chops at the opportunity for payback given the events that transpired in the initial meeting between the two sides earlier this season.
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