Reading 64 Pine Richland 60
PIAA 6A – Championship @ Giant Center Hershey
Reading Is Able To #ProtectTheCity Against All Of Pennsylvania
As Red Knights Capture First Ever State Title
We know that this space is typically reserved for chronicling all of the action from within our own Lancaster Lebanon League, but we hope that you will forgive us just this once. After all, it is a special occasion. An occasion so special and unique that the odds of something similar to it ever happening again are slim and none..
On Saturday night at Hershey’s Giant Center, the Reading Red Knights exercised all of the demons that had besmirched them in the past as the pride and joy of Reading, PA ascended to the top of Pennsylvania’s mountain top after taking down the Pine Richland Rams 64-60..
Even before the ball was tossed into the air shortly after 8 o’clock, it was evident that this would be a night unlike any other. Rumors spread like wildfire about a possible, almost unthinkable, sellout of the Giant Center in the days preceding the headliner of PIAA finals weekend. Sure enough, Saturday March 25, 2017 will always be remembered as the day that the geographic location of Reading, Pennsylvania made the shift westward to occupy a small outpost on the outskirts of Hershey Park.
Red Knight fans set up shop early Saturday morning in the parking lots surrounding Central PA’s most grandiose arena partaking in the same tailgating activities that you would see at any major sporting event to help set the tone for what they hoped would be a day that would live in infamy for their team and for their city.
You see, basketball means a great deal to this place and rightly so. They are the state’s all-time winningest program, yet were without their centerpiece. This night was believed to be the night that would finally quench that long-desired thirst and all signs pointed to that, especially given last year’s remarkable run. Reading advanced all the way to the state semifinals 12 months ago before the Red Knights ultimately fell short to Pittsburgh’s Taylor Allderdice, last year’s eventual state runner up .
With a large contingent of last year’s team coming back to fill in this year’s roster, including McDonald’s All American Lonnie Walker, plus an always-welcomed new face here and there, Reading looked to be on a mission to complete last season’s unfinished business. And for the better part of four months, the Red Knights looked to be on a collision course to make good on their destiny.
After coasting through their home Berks County league, the Red Knights set sail on their voyage in the district tournament, only to have the wind taken out of said sails by long-time rival Harrisburg in the semifinal round. Although it was a sudden and downright surprising exit from the District tournament, Reading still had a chance to make good a return to the Giant Center if they could manage the intense two week gauntlet that is the PIAA state tournament.
Taking nearly all of the city with them on their travels across the eastern part of the state, the Red Knights finally found themselves with 1 of the 2 spots in 6A championship title tilt. That’s when things got crazy.
Although all state championship games are special in their own right, there was a certain buzz in the air for this one that was undeniable. Could this game, this scene, be as good as advertised? That answer would prove to be a resounding yes..
They split the games up by sessions. Two games in one session, two games in another. After Imhotep was able to display their all of the size, speed and skill that has them rightfully inside in the Top 10 rankings according to USA Today as the Panthers took care of Erie Strong Vincent with ease, all of the patrons were forced to exit so the staff could make arrangements for the nightcap.
The first game up on Saturday night was the Girl’s 5A championship game between Archbishop Wood and Trinity. Archbishop Wood’s school colors are black, yellow, and green. Trinity on the other hand dons the blue and white. However, if one is to go back and look at old footage or pictures from that game, all that will be seen are two teams playing in front of a sea of red.
They said that the line to get in when they finally opened the doors for the evening session wrapped around the building. And like the aptly named sea of red, they came trickling in. Wave by wave by wave. They kept coming and coming until finally, nearly the entire joint was filled in both the upper and lower bowls. An extremely rare sight for even the most robust hoops fan that has spent more than a few afternoons and evenings inside the Giant Center.
They first got a glimpse of their team as a sudden roar broke out from the eastern end of the arena as the Red Knights came out just to sit in the stands and take in some of the action from the girl’s game that was taking place on the very same floor that they were about to make history on. Many of them were wearing headphones as they made their way up the steps, but that sound was probably better than any pregame mix that a playlist could’ve provided. It was clear. Reading was here to party.
As Archbishop Wood made their way off the floor with their gold medals and gold trophy in hand, the atmosphere was nothing short of electric. Pine Richland took to the floor first. They would not have the crowd advantage on this night. As the Rams made their way through their pregame layup lineups, the decibel levels kept rising and rising as all eyes were fixated on the eastern tunnel to see when the Red Knights would make their grand entrance. After they broke the huddle, they came out onto floor to a sound that they could probably hear back on Penn Street as the game, or rather this spectacle, was finally about to commence.
Reading started off cold shooting the rock from the floor. Whether it was nerves, or just inability to find their touch, the Red Knights trailed 6-3 at the under 4:00 TV timeout as Pine Richland senior guard Andrew Petcash was able to complete the whirling dervish to give the Rams the early lead.
Reading was then able to calculate 4-0 response that culminated with Jose Genoa knocking in the trifecta that created yet another incredible roar of approval as the Knights took control of the 7-6 lead. Genoa continued to be the difference-maker in the game’s opening quarter as the senior forward battled tough inside collecting a handful of offensive boards before finally getting fouled on the way up and going 2-2 once sent to the stripe.
Even though the game was still in its infancy, it was paramount that Pine Richland answer back with some kind of a response to quell the Red Knight momentum. The Rams found their answer in the form of sophomore big man Andrew Kristofic as the PR center scored inside to cut into Reading’s lead at 11-8 before Reading eventually went on to lead after the opening period 13-8.
Pine Richland opened up the second quarter with a bang. Senior guard Sean Colosimo checked into the ballgame and delivered a big time 3 ball to get the Rams within a bucket at 13-11, before Pine Richland eventually was able to tie it up at 15-15after two Andrew Petcash free throws at the 6:10mark of the first half.
As the second quarter progressed, Reading’s full-throttle, high-intensity defense was on full display as the Red Knights went on an 8-4 run following the Petcash freebies before Phil Jurkovec was able to knock down a jumper to pull the Rams within a point at 23-22.
An exchange of 3 balls ensued as Reading’s Jose Genoa and Pine Richland’s Andrew Petcash each traded buckets from downtown before Greg Shullosky drove to the rack for PR to put the Rams up by the slimmest of margins at 27-26 with 1 minute left in the half.
Even though Reading was able to put the ball through the cup just before the buzzer, a long baseball pass found its way into the waiting hands of Shullosky as the sophomore guard was able beat the horn and put the Rams up a deuce at the end of two quarters 30-28.
It was a new-look Reading team coming out of the break both literally and figuratively. Red Knight head coach Rick Perez swapped out the traditional suit and tie look for the black zip-up in hopes that a wardrobe change would be part of the karma that would put them over the hill with 16 minutes left to decide their fate. Or as he describes it, nothing superstitious whatsoever. “I don’t call it superstition,” he said after the game. “I say whatever makes the wind blow a certain way and the wind wasn’t blowing very well with the red jacket.” With that, a change in attire was in order. “It made the wind blow the right way. Tyrone started hitting shots.”
The Red Knight senior swingman helped his coach look like a genius for bringing a few different shirts along on the trip as Nesby started off the half by knocking down a big time trey to give the lead back to Reading at 31-30 just 8 seconds into the half. Nesby’s outside shooting prowess carried over to sophomore guard Wesley Butler as the 5’11” point man knocked down a triple of his own to knock Pine Richland back on their heels to start the second half with their lead now erased, down 34-30.
Pine Richland was able to withstand the early second half swing from Reading as two Andrew Petcash free throws tied things up at 34-34 with 5:10 left to go in the quarter before the Rams went on to take the lead 39-36.
After Pine Richland was able to find their groove, Reading was there to take it all away as a putback by Tymir Comfort got the Knights within a bucket before a steal created by frantic Red Knight D led to a Tyrone Nesby lay in as Reading regained the lead.
The Red Knights were then able to build upon their lead heading into the final stanza as a long, delayed possession right before the end of the quarter end with the ball with Lonnie Walker’s mitts. Not a bad gameplan. With time ticking down, the future Miami Hurricane was able to slice through the Ram defense and lay it up and in before the clock hit zero as the Red Knights were now just 8 minutes away from history and in possession of the 47-41 lead.
Although Reading was able to keep Pine Richland at arm’s length at outset of the final quarter of the PIAA season, the Rams continued to battle back as a lay in by Evan Luellen cut the Red Knight lead to just 2 at 54-52 with 3:10 remaining.
Although Reading’s senior leadership is what helped them reach this point of the season, it was a sophomore in Wesley Butler who delivered the monumental game-saving play as the Red Knight guard went in amongst the trees and came out with a bucket plus the foul, tacking on the remaining free throw out of the media timeout, to put Reading up 57-52.
Pine Richland was not out of it however, as a Red Knight foul on the other end sent the Rams to the charity stripe with a chance to chisel into Reading’s advantage. They were unable to do so. After a costly 0-2 trip to the line, Lonnie Walker was there to put the exclamation mark on this historic night as he went soaring through the air on a breakaway dunk, finishing with an emphatic one-handed throwdown, creating an image that will live on forever.
And just like that, the drought was finally over. The quest for a championship that lasted more than a century was finally put to bed in the matter of an hour and a half as Reading was able to win their first ever state championship, defeating Pine Richland 64-60.
The celebration started with a dogpile near midcourt after the final seconds ticked off and buzzer rang out before it continued in the medal ceremony as hugs and smiles were not in short supply. But it didn’t stop there..
Even after the customary postgame obligations were complete, no one left. They all wanted to stay and savor this moment. Heck, they didn’t even care when the arena lights were dimmed. No one wanted to miss a thing. The arena staff even tried to take the floor out from underneath Coach Perez as he stood on the court doing yet another interview to prep for an upcoming hockey game, but it didn’t matter. They had earned this.
Even the most popular celebrity in Berks County stayed out, much to the delight of fans both young and old. As late as 10:45, well after the game had ended, Lonnie Walker was still out on the Giant Center floor signing autographs and posing for pictures for anyone who made their way down for the chance to say “thank you.” The well-wishers never seemed to stop coming as fans kept appearing from all sections of the spacious confines long into the postgame celebration looking for one last glimpse of the one who stayed home and helped deliver a title to the city.
In a journey that may never been seen again in terms of fan support and all of the other unique factors that went into this year’s memorable trek to the state finals, Reading head coach Rick Perez said simply, “You gotta enjoy it,” before offering one last bit of advice. “When you get to the top, you have two options. If you make it with humbleness, you’ll fall gently. If you make it with arrogance and are ignorant, you’ll fall pretty hard.”
Only time will tell just how long Reading stays at the top. But for the right now, they stand alone at the apex of Pennsylvania basketball. And just like the famous Pagoda that overlooks their city, both are beaming with an unmistakable red glow.
LL All Senior All -Star Game
LL Seniors Put On An Offensive Showcase As Both Teams Combine For 235 Points In Final Curtain Call
The 2016-17 season was a darn good season for Lancaster Lebanon League Boy’s Basketball. To be fair, you knew it was bound to be a fantastic season before the ball even tipped as two LL big men made the decision to take their talents to the Division 1 stage next season in Dylan Hastings and Taylor Funk, choosing Lafayette and St. Joe’s respectively. With that kind of talent added in with a bevy of other talented teams and players, many of whom have since decided to take their talents to the next level as well, the local basketball scene promised to be appetizing. And sure enough, it was.After a season full of memorable highs that culminated in nearly a dozen teams getting the nod to advance to the postseason, the LL rightfully set up shop at the highly sought-after Giant Center playing in either the semifinal or final round of the District playoffs, taking center stage on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday during District 3’s six day stint at the palatial confines in Hershey.
The league also saw two of its members advance all the way to the Elite Eight round of states until Hempfield and Lancaster Mennonite fell short to members of the juggernaut that is the Philadelphia Catholic League last weekend. With everyone’s season being in the books, that meant that all of the predetermined All Star rosters would be maximized to their fullest potential as the best and brightest senior players that the LL had to offer put on one last show Thursday night at Hempfield in the league’s annual finale.
In a game that figured to have the element of defense being optional at best, a cold shooting start from both teams from behind the arc meant that the logical decision would be to go inside to break the dam and find the elusive points. Ben Sandberg and his aerial display then followed that instruction as the departing LS senior threw one down with authority in the early going before Elco’s Mason Bossert rang it up from deep for 3 of his team high 26 points to give his squad the 10-6 lead.
With the “Road team” being down 15-13 later on in the opening period, Penn Manor’s Cameron Lovett and Garden Spot’s Brenden Bradley were able to go back to back with 3 balls to put their squad on top 16-15 with 2:45 go in the first period. After a dunk by Garden Spot’s Kyle Gordon put the “Away” bunch up by 3 at 20-17, they later saw their lead grow to 9 before Lebanon’s Shaq Ortiz threw one down for 2 of his 24 points to shrink the “Home” hole to 7 at 28-21 after the first eight minutes.
Once inside the second frame, Warwick’s dynamic duo of long range shooters were up to their usual tricks as Alex Lalovic and Tyler Trimarchi each splashed in treys, with Trimarchi’s 3 ball putting the guests up by double figures at 44-33 with 5:03 to go in the first half. The half continued on with the home bunch being able to close the gap to a manageable 4 at 47-43 after a 5-0 spurt by Ben Sandberg, including a 3 point play after the game’s first foul call. The half ultimately concluded with the road team up by the cinco spot at 54-49 as the league honored other outstanding individuals during the intermission.
After back to back dunks from Solanco’s Dylan Hastings and Lancaster Catholic’s Danny Bomberger got things started after the break, McCaskey’s Ricky Cruz stole the show with an 11-0 charge, written all by himself, en route to a game high 32 point outburst.
Once the fourth quarter got underway with the visitors leading 87-83, Shaq Ortiz rattled off 4 in a row for his side as things became tied up at 87-all to start the final frame of the season. After the home team eventually took the lead, Tyler Trimarchi responded back with another trademark triple that put the lead back on his team’s side as the road warriors went up 93-92.With 5 minutes remaining, Danny Bomberger dialed up from distance to make it a 97-97 ballgame, but Manheim Township’s Nick Vicidomini’s 3 ball put the home side over the century mark as the white jerseys went on top 100-97. After the Vicidomini trey, the 3 ball continued to be the fuel that sparked the home team’s separation as yet another Mason Bossert trifecta put his team up 107-99. Dylan Hastings later had a 3 point play to make it a 112-104 ballgame, but another Vicidomini triple proved to be a crucial basket that put the home team up 120-111.
With the outcome already decided and time ticking away, Ben Sandberg fittingly threw down what may have been the dunk of the year as the Pioneer big man received the alley oop and flushed one-handed, meeting the ball at the rim, officially closing the books on another fantastic season of LLhoops as the home side walked off with 122-113 victory.
All Game Starting Five
Ben Sandberg (Lampeter-Strasburg)
Shaq Ortiz (Lebanon)
Ricky Cruz (McCaskey)
Mason Bossert (ELCO)
Nick Vicidomini (Manheim Township)