Rahsool Diggins (above) and Archbishop Wood came up with some big late plays to escape Martin Luther King. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Carter Fillman (@JC_Fillman)
To say Archbishop Wood was disappointed after a PCL semifinal loss to eventual runner up Roman Catholic would be an apt statement. After all, the Vikings entered the Catholic League playoffs with a 13-1 league record, a one seed in hand, and a league MVP in junior guard Rahsool Diggins. Wood coach John Mosco took us into the aftermath.
“It was unreal… we were shocked. A lot of guys were crying, just shocked.”
“I feel like we went down on ourselves after the Palestra” said Diggins, who also lit up when talking about the experience of playing in the historic venue.
But the squad consisting of mostly juniors couldn’t stay down on themselves too long. And a week and a half later, a meeting with Martin Luther King awaited them for the District 12 5A Championship. With MLK chomping at the bit for an upset, Archbishop Wood clawed out a 60-57 win to claim their third District 12 5A city crown in the four years of PIAA reclassification.
Moments before, the Wood girls team also claimed their third 5A city crown in four years with a dominant showing over Mastery Charter North. It’s the joining of basketball dominance that bridges the gap between the two teams, as it is a normal occurrence for the boys to be seen rooting on their fellow classmates.
“We get along really well. [the girls] are at every game, we’re at all their games. They come by practice.” commented Mosco on the two teams’ relationship. “We have a lot of juniors, they have a lot of juniors, and [Tyson Allen’s] twin sister is on the team so that helps.”
But it has been especially important for Mosco to put the boys team on the local map, joining the ranks of Roman Catholic, Neumann-Goretti, Imhotep Charter, and others among not just local contenders, but national powers.
“I’m happy, especially with where the program was,” offered the seventh year head coach. “This is our third, you know it’s a big championship, and you’ve gotta go out and play hard whenever you’re playing for a championship.”
But heading into the fourth quarter, it was the MLK Cougars that seemed to have more energy, despite trailing for a majority of the game. Trailing the Vikings 58-57 with 30 seconds remaining, coach Sean Colson opted to drain the clock in hopes of holding for one. A big block on the baseline by reigning Diggins, recently named the PCL’s MVP for the 2019-20 season, led to a huge Daeshon Shepherd dunk on the other end with .5 seconds remaining, icing the game for the Vikings.
For a team that has played numerous tight games throughout the season, another down-to-the-wire thriller was nothing new.
“I wasn’t worried or nothing, I knew we were going to get a stop. We’ve been in this position before,” said Diggins. “He drove baseline, Rob [Jackson] helped, you gotta help the helper, I was there.”
A late floater by junior guard Auprel Andrews gave MLK a brief 57-56 fourth quarter lead, before Wood junior Robert Jackson converted on a feed from Jaylen Stinson to give Wood a lead it wouldn’t relinquish with just over a minute remaining in the game. If it weren’t for foul trouble plaguing both starters Muneer Newton and Marcus Randolph, Jackson probably wouldn’t have even found himself on the floor at that moment. Mosco praised his bench for filling in for two premier players,
“Brennan Kersey played really well and so did Tyson Allen off the bench. So did Rob Jackson, so you know it's the next man up.”
Entering the fourth quarter leading 44-41, the Vikings’ lead expanded to 48-41. A steal by Diggins and an outlet to Shepherd would have given Wood a comfortable 50-41 cushion, but a windmill dunk drew back iron and MLK senior win Semaj Oliver converted on a bucket plus the foul on the other end, resulting in a virtual 5 point swing.
Archbishop Wood was never able to truly grab a hold of this one, as MLK battled back from every punch thrown their way. The Vikings had numerous miscues in the half court, and really relied on getting their points in transition. When asked if a week and a half off from games had anything to do with their less than desirable play, Mosco leaned towards the side of agreement.
“A week and a half off like we said, not really sharing the ball like we are used to, stuff like that. We have to get back to moving and cutting and playing without the ball.”
It was a message that hit home for Diggins as well when asked what the team needs to do to get back to the best form of themselves, “Defending, getting back to sharing the ball, and communicating.”
Though Archbishop Wood held a 27-26 lead heading into the half, it was MLK that seemed to be controlling the tempo early on in the contest. The Cougars mixed in zone defense and worked in some man, never allowing the Vikings to get really comfortable on the offensive side of the ball. Mosco praised MLK coach Sean Colson for having his team ready to fight “tooth and nail”.
Looking ahead, Archbishop Wood will take on the No. 6 seed out of District 1, Strath Haven, which just lost a seeding game Friday night. Martin Luther King, who ends up the No. 2 seed in District 12, will face the winner of that seeding game in Unionville.
Just one short season ago, Archbishop Wood fell to Mars Area HS in the 5A State Championship. Now, they will look to fight their way back. So despite falling short of their PCL championship goal, their vision shifts to a new one, one that was made evidently clear and echod by players and coaches alike after another city crowning. Put by Diggins:
“We've got five games left. We want to get that Hershey bar.”
Wood: 14 | 13 | 17 | 16 | 60
MLK: 13 | 13 | 15 | 16 | 57
Wood: 21-45 FG, 3-15 3PT, 15-20 FT
MLK: 20-45 FG, 5-14 3PT, 12-22 FT
Wood: Shepherd 17, Diggins 16, Stinson 13, Newton 4, Randolph 3, Jackson 3, Kersey 2, Allen 2
MLK: Hunt 14, Oliver 12, Robinson 11, Andrews 10, Small 8, Porter 2