The Rockets won their first league title since 1971 behind Eli Brooks' huge fourth quarter. Brandon Stoneburg
Throngs of Spring Grove fans stood behind Eli Brooks, chanting his name as the bright lights of the TV cameras shone on him as he stood on the court enjoying the moment.
Brooks isn't new to playing the hero, but doing so with the league title on the line was something different. The Rockets’ junior star stepped up and launched a shot from beyond the arch with 49 seconds left in the YAIAA championship game to give Spring Grove the lead.
It was just his second successful 3-point attempt of the night, and it led the Rockets to their first league championship since 1971, a 42-36 victory against Central York on Saturday night at York College's Grumbacher Center.
“Once I let (the shot) go it felt really good,” Brooks said. “My jump shot wasn’t falling in the first and second quarter, but just have to keep shooting the ball. That’s my role.”
The ending made Saturday night’s game memorable, but as the teams headed into the fourth quarter, the game was far from pretty. Neither team was able to find its jump shot, and Brooks and Central’s Jared Wagner were the only players who finished in double-digit scoring.
The Rockets trailed Central (20-3) until the fourth quarter, when Brooks found his rhythm. He scored 17 of his total 26 in the final period. He scored his first 3-pointer with 1:29 left in the game, which set the stage for his game-winner moments later. Brooks converted two free throws in the dying seconds to give the Rockets (22-2) the cushion they needed.
“Eli’s a big shot kind of guy,” Spring Grove head coach James Brooks said. “We wouldn’t be in this position if it wasn’t for him hitting some pretty tough shots. When it’s down to the end, it doesn’t really matter when Eli’s taking it. I feel confident when he’s shooting it.
“And so does he. Every time it leaves his hands he’s confident that he’s going to knock it down.”
It was just the third loss of the season for the Panthers, who take the top seed into the District 3 Class AAAA tournament. Central will host No. 16 Shippensburg to open the playoffs Wednesday. Spring Grove is the No. 4 seed, hosting No. 13 Central Dauphin East on Wednesday.
Central reached the YAIAA championship game for the third straight season, but Saturday marked the second straight runner-up finish for the Panthers.
The drought was far longer for the Rockets, who made their first championship game appearance in 22 years. Spring Grove's last championship victory was so long ago that James Brooks was only 1 year old when it occurred.
The Rockets coach said he doesn’t preach to his team too much about the program's history, but he made an exception with the title on the line.
“I looked up (at the banners) and just told them that everybody is going to see this year that you put together and they’re going to get to see it on that banner until it gets so old. Or they win so many that they have to take it down.”
The younger Brooks said after the game the historic significance hadn’t set in quite yet and that it felt like just another game.
“That may sound bad, but that’s just how I go out throughout the game,” he said. “Just try to play the game like it’s just another game and if we win, we win. If we lose, we lose. Just try to get back into the championship and keep moving forward."
Spring Grove (42)
Messersmith 0 0-0 0, Drew Gordon 1 0-0 2, Wierman 1 2-2 5, Flaherty 1 0-0 2, Eli Brooks 8 8-9 26, Darin Gordon 1 2-4 4, Sager 0 1-2 1, Austin Panter 0 2-2 2. Totals — 12 15-19 42.
Central York (36)
Batts 1 0-0 2, G. Markey 0 0-0 0, Ray 0 1-2 1, Edmonds 2 2-4 7, O Neill 0 0-0 0 N. Markey 3 0-0 7, Jared Wagner 5 6-9 17, Sobestanovich 0 2-4 2, Czulada 0 0-0 0. Totals — 11 11-19 36.
Spring Grove_ 5 _ 7 _ 9 _ 2 _ — _ 42
Central York _ 13 _ 5 _ 9 _ 9 _ — _ 36
3-point goals — SG 3 (Brooks 2, Wierman), CY 3 (Edmonds, N. Markey, Wagner).
YAIAA boys' basketball champions
2016 — Spring Grove
2015 — William Penn
2014 — Central York
2013 — William Penn
2012 — William Penn
2011 — Eastern York
2010 — Eastern York
2009 — William Penn
2008 — West York
2007 — West York
2006 — Red Lion