Zentner, Garden Spot Roll Past Owen J. Roberts For Opening Round Victory In Twin Valley Tip-Off Tournament
Written by: Andy Herr on Saturday, December 7th, 2019
Although it may be a phrase most commonly associated with the sport of horse racing, there is an undeniable fact that the teams that make up the vast and seemingly ever-growing Lancaster-Lebanon League basketball landscape are always aiming to hit the ‘triple crown’ each and every year. What is this sometimes-elusive goal that seems to escape most teams that are not in the upper echelon you may ask? None other than playoff berths in the L-L League, District 3, and PIAA state tournaments respectively. And when speaking of teams that just so happened to reside amongst such esteemed company last year, one would be nothing if not remised if they failed to include Garden Spot in that discussion.
When going over the Spartans’ resume last year, it certainly had its fair share of high water marks. Chief among them, playing in what was arguably the best game that took place in all the Lancaster-Lebanon League last year in a heart-stopping, back and forth, tit for tat, triple overtime classic which saw GS eventually prevail 60-56 against a very game Columbia outfit on the opening night of the league tournament. And while Garden Spot would eventually bow out before reaching the L-L title game just one year ago, the Spartans were able to parlay their District 3 playoff bid into a state playoff appearance as well, even though Garden Spot eventually succumbed to a hot-shooting Sun Valley team on the opening night of the state tournament to the tune of a 65-44 final decision against the Vanguards hailing from the town of Aston.
Now sure, while such sensational achievements are more than worthy of standing alone in terms of their own merit, the fact that Nate Musselman was in his first season of sliding just a few chairs up the Spartans’ bench and into the role of the head man certainly made Garden Spot’s ride all that more memorable. And while it may be easy for some to get caught up with the numerous pats on the back and congratulatory handshakes around town that likely came attached at the hip when talking about such a marvelous postseason run, the fact of the matter was that there was plenty of work left waiting for Musselman and his staff once the Spartans returned for their offseason training regimen considering that the 2019-2020 edition of Garden Spot was sure to look vastly different than it has the last handful of years.
In years past, it’d certainly be fair to say that Garden Spot had leaned heavily, almost exclusively, on their guard-heavy rotation. But this year, there would be no Keontae Nunn, no Jordan Shewbridge, no Jacob Arndt, and no Brendan Bradley among the like still playing in New Holland as had been the case for the last handful of seasons. Instead, the Spartans were likely to work from inside out considering Garden Spot’s crown jewel in terms of their returning arsenal was one of the top big men in the entire L-L League in 6’7 senior center, Andrew Zentner. Yet for as unfamiliar as Garden Spot may have appeared to look heading into this year, Musselman, Zentner, and the rest of the Spartans’ supporting cast could find some solace in the fact that their season would start off in the same familiar way in which it has for the last handful of seasons in a trip to nearby Elverson for the Twin Valley Tip-Off Tournament and a date with Owen J. Roberts waiting for them in the opening round.
And while it may have only been the opening night of a very long season, the early returns seem to suggest that abiding by that very formula may ultimately work out just fine for the Spartans in the long run.
As mentioned, Andrew Zentner really is the one who will stir Garden Spot’s drink long-term this season with his ability to play inside amongst the trees, while also exhibiting a finely-tuned prowess to step outside and drain treys similar to that of a much smaller guard that he often towers over. That said, the Spartans’ opening basket of the season could not have personified Zentner’s ability more in a single snapshot than when the Spartans’ senior big man gobbled up the first of his many offensive rebounds of throughout the night before going up and finishing for the easy deuce from point-blank range, allowing Garden Spot to break the scoring seal. However, Owen J. Roberts would retaliate right back with a 5-0 salvo of their own, capped off with a trey dialed up junior guard Jalen Lucas, as the Wildcats quickly surged out to a 5-2 advantage just 1:40 into the contest.
From then on however, Garden Spot would simply discard Owen J. Roberts and never look back.
After spotting the Wildcats an early lead, Garden Spot, particularly Andrew Zentner mind you, proceeded to have none of it as the alley-oop dunk flushed home by, you guessed it, Zentner, allowed Garden Spot to race back out in front with the Spartans’ lead now standing at 10-5 with two minutes left to go in the opening quarter of play. Shortly thereafter, Garden Spot junior guard Thomas Andress also got into the mix with a steal and finish at the cup to put Garden Spot up by seven at 12-5 as the Wildcats were forced to call a timeout with 1:26 now showing on the first quarter clock.
Fortunately for Owen J. Roberts however, the Spartans’ first quarter blitz was ultimately extinguished by way of yet another Jalen Lucas triple, this one cutting the Garden Spot lead down to a half dozen at 14-8, which is where things would remain once action resumed in the second quarter.
Ironically, for as much damage as Andrew Zentner clearly had inflicted upon his opposition within the lane up until that point, the Spartans’ multi-talented big proceeded to display his outside shooting touch by promptly sinking a dead-on triple to reup the Garden Spot lead to seven at 17-10 with five minutes left to go before the intermission. And if it wasn’t Zentner pouring in the long-range bombs, Brady Conroy certainly had no issues whatsoever in terms of offering his assistance as well as the Spartans’ senior guard fearlessly sunk a corner trey to keep the Garden Spot lead standing at that seven-point bulge with 1:35 still left to tick off the second quarter clock. Yet for as well as Garden Spot’s offense had been churning considering the myriad of new faces now gracing the floor for first time in a Spartan uniform, it would be their final defensive possession of the first half that would best exemplify what will likely be Garden Spot’s go-to calling card this season.
With time winding down and Owen J. Roberts trying desperately to claw within striking distance, the Spartans proceeded to rise up and stymie any last-ditch attempts that the Wildcats could try and muster before the first half horn.
It all started with a sensational negation of a would-be Wildcats’ shot by Garden Spot 6’2 senior forward, Darius Wallace, as the loose ball bounded out of bounds with Owen J. Roberts maintaining ownership of the possession. But that possession would ultimately end with a crashing thud as Garden Spot senior guard Brady Conroy fearlessly took a charge and was rewarded handsomely for his efforts, as the Spartans ran off into the break after avoiding any further damage with their lead standing at 20-14 after what had been a fairly clean first half of play exhibited between the two squads.
Yet just when it may have seemed like Owen J. Roberts may have been able to mount up and make some headway in terms of ransacking the lead entering the initial stages of the third quarter, the second half on Friday night between Garden Spot and Owen J. Roberts began much in the same vein as its first half predecessor.
It’s true. With Andrew Zentner becoming uncaged yet again, perhaps best demonstrated by his back-to-back buckets to start the second half proceedings, Zentner’s offensive explosion had clearly rubbed off onto his Spartan teammates as junior guard Josh Horst then peppered in a 3-ball right in front of the Garden Spot bench shortly thereafter to give the gang from New Holland their biggest lead of the night at 29-18 with 5:30 left to play in the third. From then on however, the floodgates only continued to gush with water the rest of the way as Thomas Andress checked back into the contest and promptly responded by going on his own personal 5-0 run, allowing the Spartans to double-up their opposition at 36-18, which is precisely where things would remain once the final quarter got underway.
So, with the Garden Spot snowball now clearly rolling downhill with nothing laid out upon its path in terms of resistance, Brady Conroy proceeded to get the fourth quarter underway by dialing up a 3-ball on the first possession of the final stanza, as the 5’11 senior guard would finish as runner up in terms of scoring on the night for the Garden Spot effort by chipping in six points — all from behind the arc — to aid the Spartan cause. But by and large, no Spartan played bigger all night long— both literally and figuratively —- than Andrew Zentner.
In many ways, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to those attendance, including those donning college polos and dress shirts who had traveled all the way down to Twin Valley Middle School on a recruiting mission, to witness Zentner rip off six straight points in succession before his night was over and done with, ultimately finishing his ultra-impressive night by posting a game-high 19-point effort as the Garden Spot lead had now ballooned over the 20-point threshold with the Spartans holding serve at 45-24. But even with time winding down and the outcome now nothing more than an official formality with a final score only to be added to its name, that was still more than enough time for Garden Spot to look into its long-term future as 5’10 freshman wing, Jahvar Hammond, checked in the contest and proceeded to tally his first of what is sure to be many more buckets left to come in his Spartan career, as Hammond’s pair upped the Spartans’ lead to 49-31 with three minutes left to go.
Ultimately however, Garden Spot’s second half surged proved to be far too much for the Wildcats to try and handle, as the Spartans rolled into Saturday afternoon’s title fight against Great Valley following their 49-32 triumph over Owen J. Roberts on Friday night. All in all, certainly not too shabby of an opening day at the office when starting things off with a brand-new group.
“We’ve had tremendous guards the last couple years,” Garden Spot head coach Nate Musselman said following Friday night’s victory when comparing personnel from last year to the here and now. “The difference is the ball movement. The ball now moves around and it’s a completely different kind of feel to our team. It’s actually a lot of fun to coach.”
And coaching in championship games, no matter how early or how late within the season, those are pretty hard to pass up as well.
“We’ve got to stay hungry,” Musselman said regarding the ultra-quick turnaround that comes with playing again on Saturday afternoon. “Yes, we want to get the championship tomorrow, but it’s such a small blip on our radar screen. Just to see their elation in there, even though it’s our first game, that’s what I’m excited about,” he added while looking over at his happy troops milling about with friends and family following their initial win of the season.
“Last year was completely different when we left (Twin Valley),” the Spartans’ boss was equally quick to point out. “We walked out of here at 0-2 last year kind of like, ‘uh oh.’ So, I’m glad the preseason work paid off for these kids. I’m just so happy for them.”
NEXT UP: After taking care of Owen J. Roberts on Friday night, Garden Spot will now set their sights on a Great Valley squad on Saturday afternoon in a battle to see who can improve their record to 2-0 on the young season in addition to finding out who will leave Elverson with the rightful title of being called the Twin Valley Tip-Off Tournament champions.
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