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Spring Grove tops Manheim Central with wild comeback

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At the end of the game, the Spring Grove boys’ basketball team needed to shoot lights out if the Rockets wanted to win.

And they did.

Grant Sterner actually scored the final point of the night at the free-throw line as the lights in the Rockets’ gym went completely out – and then flickered back on. After a brief conference between officials, Sterner’s free throw stood and the game resumed with nine seconds left. But Sterner’s flurry in the final minute helped the Rockets complete a 65-63 victory against visiting Manheim Central in the District 3 Class 5A boys’ basketball quarterfinals.

Sterner scored all 10 of his points in the second half, including five in the final 45 seconds to play to help the Rockets erase a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit. He buried a 3-pointer to tie the game with 44 seconds to play, then at the other end he came up with a steal with 20.7 seconds left to play and provided a go-ahead point at the free-throw line.

Sterner called it the best game of his career.

“It was unbelievable. … “The fans coming out at the end, everyone I knew surrounding me and having a great time,” Sterner said.

When a desperation 3-point attempt by Manheim Central (20-5) clanged off the rim at the buzzer, the Rockets’ student section rushed the floor. Spring Grove (20-6) is headed back to the District 3 semifinals, where it will play YAIAA champion Northeastern (25-2) at 8 p.m. Monday at Hershey’s Giant Center.

“Coach pulled us in (with about 3 minutes left), ‘This is when it needs to happen right now,’” Sterner said of the fourth-quarter comeback.

“We had to contribute as a team and get it done.”

Eli Brooks had an off night offensively. He had just seven points at halftime, but the 2,000-point scorer managed to take advantage of Manheim Central’s willingness in fouling him time after time in the fourth quarter. Brooks hit 10-of-10 free throws, all in the fourth quarter, finishing with a team-high 25 points.

“We have total confidence in him. … We always say, when you make it Eli, we’ll get back on defense,” Spring Grove’s Austin Panter said.

Bloodied earlier in the game when he was kneed in the head while driving through the paint, Brooks finished the game with a scar on his right ear and had been told he might need stitches.

“There was a big emphasis really on trying to get as many points as possible with the clock stopped,” Brooks said.

The wild ending overshadowed an incredible game by 6-foot-9 St. Joseph’s recruit Taylor Funk. The Manheim Central senior scored a game-high 32 points, including 15 in the final quarter. A shooter, he spent most of the game being guarded by Brooks, his AAU teammate with the Jersey Shore Warriors. Late in the game he went to the low post, and scored almost at will.

“They don’t really have size, so I took advantage of my size to get easy buckets,” Funk said.

“He’s about 6-1 maybe, I’m 6-9. He’s definitely going to guard me on the perimeter a lot better than on the low post, so I decided to sit down in there and get some easy shots.”

Panter played a huge role for the Rockets, though, providing some secondary scoring to Brooks. The former Texas schoolboy knocked down 20 points.

“Our crowd is what really boosted us,” Panter said. “I’m shaking. Everyone is freaking out. We’re going to Hershey now, we’re beyond excited.”