Lonnie Walker (above) cashed in for 20 points in Sunday's win over Plymouth Whitemarsh (Photo:Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Will Slover (@WillSlover31)
There’s nothing more important than having a group of reliable seniors when making a deep playoff run.
For the entirety of the postseason, Reading has been relying on its core of four solid seniors to get it through the district and state tournaments.
The same held true on Sunday afternoon, as when Reading’s PIAA 6A quarterfinal contest with Plymouth Whitemarsh was deadlocked heading into the fourth quarter, Reading’s seniors did everything in their power to make sure the Red Knights’ season didn’t come to an end.
“Our seniors stepped up,” Reading head coach Rick Perez said. ‘It’s very important that your seniors finish strong at this point. Just the presence of those seniors and you can’t do it without them. It was amazing to see them step up in that moment.”
Behind the efforts of Lonnie Walker and Isiah Cook, Reading prevailed over Plymouth Whitemarsh by a score of 70-61 at Temple University’s Liacouras Center to advance to the PIAA 6A semifinals.
“We’ve been here before,” Walker said “We know what it takes to win. We know how hard it is, we know the crowd, we know how to keep our composure. If us seniors keep leading, we’ll be in a good place.”
With the score knotted up at 50 after three quarters and the five-star recruit Walker having spent the final two minutes of the third quarter after tweaking his shoulder, as the start of the final frame came around, he knew it was his time to do what he does best.
“I had to take over. Even though I had three fouls, I knew what I had to do,” Walker said. “I know when my team needs me and my team told me to take over. It’s all about unleashing the beast and trying to keep on playing my game.”
Walker started the quarter scoring seven straight points for the Red Knights and making sure that Plymouth Whitemarsh couldn’t get the upper hand.
P-W found an answer though, and with just under two minutes remaining Kevin Tilghman knocked down two free throws to put the Colonials ahead, 61-59 for the first time since the beginning of the second quarter.
Isiah Cook (above) was huge in the fourth quarter of Reading's win over Plymouth Whitemarsh (Photo:Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Reading wasn’t down for long though, as on the ensuing possession and the one following that, Cook hit two mid-range jumpers to tie the contest at 61 and then on the next possession, he put his team ahead for good.
“I didn’t want to go home,” Cook said. “I had the mindset that I was doing whatever I could to not go home. That was just going through my head and allowed me to make those shots.”
Walker and fellow senior and Berks Catholic transfer Tyrone Nesby paced Reading with 20 points a piece, while Walker also added in eight rebounds, two assists and two blocks. Cook chipped in with 11 more points of his own.
While the efforts of those three seniors are expected, as all three have been a staple in Reading’s starting lineup all season, another senior turned in a quality performance for the Red Knights on Sunday afternoon.
Senior forward Jose Batista, who replaced Nesby after he was nabbed with two early fouls, was the main reason that Reading jumped ahead early on in the contest.
After trailing 16-13 after the first quarter, Perez called Batista’s number and the Puerto Rico native responded, as he cashed in for all 12 of his points in the second frame alone and saw his team jump on top by a score of 37-30 heading into the half.
“Jose is the ultimate teammate,” Perez said. “He’s been waiting on his opportunity for a very, very long time. Jose can play some basketball. He’s a top tier player for us. He does a wonderful job defensively. He breaks down the defense. He makes some amazing passes, he can shoot it and we’re just blessed to have him. His time was coming and he took it and seized it here today.”
For the opposition, junior Ahmad Williams lead the Colonials with 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists while Tilghman added in 13 more points, all of which came in the second half.
Williams and Tilghman were two lone bright spots for the Plymouth Whitemarsh offense, as the Colonials were held to a mere 17-of-44 (.386) from the field and 4-of-13 (.307) from beyond the arc.
Up next for Reading, is a clash with Archbishop Ryan on Tuesday night at the Liacouras Center, with a chance to reach the PIAA 6A state title game on the line.
Although the semifinal round is where Reading’s season ended last year with a loss to Taylor Allderdice, Walker insists that there’s no pressure to exceed last year’s accomplishments.
“No pressure at all,” Walker said. “It’s a different team. New year, new players, different hunger. There’s no such thing as pressure with this team. We all know what we can do and we all know what we have to do; whatever we can do to win. It’s up to us to achieve that."