BY ADAM MICHAEL
Times Sports Writer
It didn't happen every time, but back in their playground days Jake Messersmith was the only spot shooter who could ever beat Eli Brooks in a 3-point challenge.
Brooks has since become the greatest scorer in Spring Grove history, but on Monday Messersmith gave the Michigan University recruit one last run for his money. Though he'd never scored more than 10 points in a varsity game, Messersmith drained five straight 3-point attempts in the first half to give Spring Grove a healthy lead in an eventual 73-46 victory over Spring Grove in the first round of the District 3 Class 5A tournament at Spring Grove.
"Coach always tells me to get in the corner, have my feet set and knock the shot down," Messersmith said. "They double teamed and triple teamed Eli, and that opened me up. He found me and I knocked it down."
Brooks used a strong run that included a 3-pointer from a yard beyond the line and a heavy dunk in the third to finish with a game-high 21, but Messersmith became the third Rocket in as many games against the Colonials to put up a career high when he finished with 20.
"Their guys always find a way and I love that about them - when I'm not coaching against them," New Oxford coach Sean Bair said. "That's awesome. I would love to be that guy, but it stinks when you're playing against him."
In the first game of a two-game regular season series, Spring Grove's Austin Panter scored a never-before-seen 21. In Round 2, Drew Gordon reached his personal best when he scored 20.
When Messersmith broke his career best by the end of the first quarter, giving the Rockets a 19-7 advantage by hitting his fourth straight shot from long range, Bair was miffed, but not surprised.
"We're cursed, man. We've given up career highs to every other guy on their team for two straight years," Bair said. "I just watched Klay Thompson miss five straight in the (NBA) 3-point contest and you've got Messersmith out here with 15 made 3s on the year and he hits five in the first half."
The Colonials (11-11) are used to seeing 3s fall, but are usually on the firing end. The team averages more than eight per game, but lost the sweet spot after hitting 4 of 9 in the first half, finishing the game with eight straight misses.
The Rockets (18-5) did their best to knock the Colonials off the line, Spring Grove coach James Brooks said.
"With Eli rebounding at the clip he's been on, that rebound's going to be ours," Brooks said. "If we can get guys out in front of him, we'll finish the layups."
Jordin Brown drained one in response to a Mason Staub putback to start the second quarter, then he and Ben Lehman splashed down back-to-back with 4:12 remaining in the first half to cut Grove's lead to 27-20. That was as close as the Colonials would get the rest of the evening.
Panter hit a traditional three-point play, John Sager and Eli Brooks balanced a six-point run by Lehman, and Messersmith finished Spring Grove's scoring in the first half with his fifth consecutive swish from long range.
"I'm not really a high scorer," Messersmith said. "Usually around 6 to 10. That definitely raised my confidence level."
Brooks went to the locker room one rebound shy of a double-double. He and Panter went on a 10-2 run that put the game way out of reach before the fourth quarter even got started, and Messersmith banked home yet another 3 to make it 51-30 with 4:48 to go in the third.
Brooks didn't score a single point in the fourth quarter, but he showed off all his other skills, delivering four of his seven assists while running his rebounds to 18. A pair of no-look feeds into the lane had the Spring Grove student section on their feet.
"On fast breaks, they put three guys on me and try to take my points away," Eli Brooks said. "It's just about making the right basketball plays. They do a great job of not letting me score, so I find others."
The Rockets will play Manheim Central (20-4) in the quarterfinals, where Brooks will get the chance to play against an AAU teammate, the 6-foot-9 Taylor Funk, who committed to St. Joseph's earlier this year.
"We hope we have a 6-foot-1 guy going to Michigan to offset that," James Brooks said with a grin.
Ten teams advance to the PIAA Class 5A tournament from District 3, so the Rockets have already clinched their spot. In previous years, a loss in the first round was a season-ender, but the Colonials have a chance to win two straight to advance as a No. 9 or 10 seed. They'll travel to Waynesboro (14-9) on Thursday for an elimination game.
"Obviously our guys are a little dejected right now because of the nature of that loss," Bair said. "Hopefully we can use this to motivate us for Waynesboro."
Adam Michael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter: @GoodOleTwoNames
New Oxford 7 11 9 11 - 46
Spring Grove 19 18 19 17 - 73
New Oxford (46): Deriq Brown 2 0-2 4, Abdul Janneh 4 1-3 9, Jordin Brown 2 0-3 6, Ben Lehman 6 4-4 17, John Wessel 3 3-4 10. Non-scorers: Israel Collazo, Brandon Pruchard, Zach Rudisill, Tanner Myers, Jaren Rex, Trevor Floyd. Totals: 17 8-16 46.
Spring Grove (73): Cole McKowen 1 0-0 2, Mason Staub 1 1-2 3, Jake Messersmith 6 2-2 20, Drew Gordon 1 4-7 6, Eli Brooks 7 4-4 21, Jonathan Sager 3 2-4 8, Austin Panter 6 1-2 13. Non-scorers: Grant Sterner, Elijah Taylor, Trevon Colbert. Totals: 25 14-21 73.
3-pointers: NO-J. Brown 2, Wessel, Lehman; SG-Messersmith 6, Brooks 3.