Eli Brooks has never played at Hershey's Giant Center, something he was determined to change when Spring Grove faced J.P. McCaskey in a District 3 Class AAAA boys' basketball quarterfinal Saturday.
A Spring Grove win guaranteed the Rockets a trip to Hershey, and the junior hit his first four shots at Dallastown High School as the Rockets took an early lead. However, the Red Tornado stormed back and grabbed a nine-point advantage after one period.
Brooks took over after that, leading Spring Grove to a 71-52 victory — and he finally earned that trip to Hershey.
He finished with 28 points, 13 rebounds and four assists. He also did a little bit of everything during a five-minute stretch of the third quarter.
“We were determined to get this win and get to Hershey,” Brooks said. “I’ve never played there and it’s been a dream of mine.”
The Rockets (24-2) will face a familiar opponent on the big floor as they take on No. 1 seed and YAIAA division foe Central York (22-3) at 8 p.m. Tuesday in a semifinal.
It will be a rematch of the YAIAA championship game. Spring Grove defeated the Panthers after Central York handed the Rockets their only two losses of the season.
“We’ve got to come out and not give them the lead," Brooks said. "They are such an energy team."
Long-range shooting helped McCaskey (20-6) jump out to a 21-12 lead after one. The Tornado drilled four 3-pointers, three from sophomore Ricky Cruz, who posted a team-high 14 points.
“We just tried to match their intensity,” Spring Grove coach James Brooks said. “They came out quick. They are a quick team. It took us a little bit to get used to playing that pace.”
The Rockets took a 25-24 lead when Darin Gordon scored off an offensive rebound. McCaskey tied the game with a free throw, but moments later Gordon banked in a 3-pointer as Spring Grove took the lead for good with less than two minutes to play in the first half.
McCaskey's Kobe Gantz opened the third quarter with a trey, bringing the Tornado within 32-30. But Eli Brooks dominated the action.
First, he made a terrific pass to Liam Flaherty for a fast break. Then, he pulled down a rebound which led to a Grant Wierman 3-pointer. Brooks then dropped his patented fall-away jumper.
The play of the night, though, occurred about midway through the third when Brooks stole the ball. While lying on the floor Brooks passed to a streaking Wierman for a layup. Suddenly the Rockets led, 44-33.
The Rockets outscored the Tornado, 39-25, in the second half.
Wierman and Gordon each scored 14 points, with Wierman scoring 12 points in the second half. Flaherty scored all eight of his points in the pivotal second half.
“I really challenged my guys. They are pretty smart,” coach Brooks said. “I am a numbers guy and told them after the first quarter when they allowed 21, that’s 84 for the game. It’s hard to win allowing that many points.”
Allowing only 31 points through the final three quarters earned Spring Grove a trip to Chocolate Town.
Gatnz 2 0-0 6, Ricky Cruz 5 0-0 14, Gonzalez 0 0-0 0, Baratta 3 0-0 6, Gregory Nunez 5 3-8 13, Speller 2 1-5 7, Davis 0 0-0 0, Joseph 2 1-2 6. Totals — 19 5-15 52.
Spring Grove (71)
Messersmith 0 0-0 0, Dr. Gordon 1 2-3 4, Grant Wierman 6 0-0 14, Flaherty 2 2-2 8, Eli Brooks 10 5-9 28, Darin Gordon 4 5-8 14, Sager 0 0-0 0, Panter1 1-2 3. Totals — 24 15-24 71.
McCaskey _ 21 _ 6 _ 17 _ 8 _ — _ 52
Spring Grove _ 12 _ 20 _ 18 _ 21 _ — _ 71
3-point goals — McCaskey 9 (Cruz 4, Speller 2, Gantz,2, Jospeh); Spring Grove 8 (Brooks 3, Wierman 2, Flaherty 2, Da. Gordon).