Archbishop Wood coach John Mosco embraces senior Muneer Newton at the end of Wood's 68-59 PCL championship win. (Photo: Gavin Bethell))
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
There were 21.8 seconds left on the clock when John Mosco took his starters from the game.
Each one of the five seniors — Rahsool Diggins, Jaylen Stinson, Daeshon Shepherd, Muneer Newton and Marcus Randolph — walked off the Cardinal O’Hara court to a massive embrace from the Archbishop Wood head coach. There was a bear-hug for Diggins, the centerpiece to the best starting five in Viking history; shortly after, Mosco had a different player in each arm, holding onto a moment they’d been dreaming of for four years.
Archbishop Wood had won the Catholic League championship for just the second time in its boys’ basketball history, a 68-59 triumph over Roman Catholic which cements the legacy of that senior class as a special one in the PCL’s storied hoops history.
“I had a lot of butterflies in my stomach,” Diggins said, “but I’m not a crier, I didn’t cry; I held my tears.
“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time, since before I came to Wood,” the 6-foot-3 UConn commit added. “I remember freshman year, we lost [in the PCL quarterfinals], I told him I’m going to get him one, and that came through, my promise came true.”
“Sool promised me he would get me one in four years,” Mosco said, “and I was glad I got a chance to take him out, give him his due.”
Diggins, Shepherd and Newton arrived at the Warminster (Pa.) school as baby-faced freshmen four years ago, the Wood boys fresh off their first PCL and state titles in school history. But Collin Gillespie (Villanova), Matt Cerruti (Lock Haven) and Keith Otto (Moravian) had all departed, and while a talented 2018 class with four Division I commits led the way the following year, it quickly became clear the 2021 class was going to be the focal point for Mosco’s program moving forward.
As sophomores, with Stinson on board, they won 20 games but lost to Bishop McDevitt in the league quarterfinals and Moon Area High School in the PIAA Class 5A state championship. As juniors, with Randolph in the mix, they went 22-5 (13-1 PCL), losing to a rather different Roman squad in the Catholic League semifinals; their state run was three away from a championship when COVID hit.
So it all came down to this senior year, one that a pandemic threatened to wipe out altogether.
Jaylen Stinson (above) poses with the PCL trophy after scoring a team-high 21 points. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
“It was always like ‘Wood can’t win, that’s what it is,’” said Stinson, a James Madison commit. “‘They’re a great team, they’ve got a lot of talent,’ but we could never win, that’s what it is.
“Our biggest goal was just to get a PCL championship first and you can see everybody right now just excited as can be.”
Stinson, a 6-0 combo guard, led the way for Wood in the win with 21 points, hitting five 3-pointers on eight attempts and knocking down four foul shots in the final couple minutes to help seal the win. He revealed afterwards he did so just a day after suffering a fracture in his thumb on his right (shooting) hand
“I can’t feel it right now, it’s just a lot of adrenaline going through me right now,” he said. “I can’t feel it right now, but I know I will later.”
Randolph, a 6-4 Richmond commit scored 18 points. He and Shepherd, who finished with eight and seven rebounds, threw down back-to-back dunks in the fourth quarter, ending a Roman run that had brought the Cahillites within six and pushing the advantage back to double-digits.
Diggins found the 6-5 Shepherd first on an alley-oop slam to ignite the Vikings’ supporters — each team had around 75 fans in the building, a combination of family and friends, with a few alumni in the mix — and Randolph followed with a leak-out slam of his own, and with three minutes left it became clear that Wood was going to win.
“This win means everything,” said Shepherd, who’ll be playing at La Salle in the fall. “I can’t even put it into words, it meant everything to us because we worked so hard for it. The last two years we came up short, we just wanted it and we got it.”
Diggins scored nine but contributed in so many other ways, with eight assists, four blocks and three rebounds, helping limit the effectiveness of talented Roman sophomore point guard Xzayvier Brown (9 points), the Cahillites’ only returning scorer from a year ago. Newton chipped in nine points of his own and five rebounds.
Rahsool Diggins (above) had eight assists to lead the Wood offense in the win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Just like Gillespie four years before him, Diggins is the voice around which the rest of the Vikings time their oars, the table-setter on both ends of the floor. It’s clear he and his coach have a special bond, one now strengthened by having achieved the goal they set out for when Diggins decided to attend Wood over a host of other schools hoping he’d help their hoops programs.
“I still remember the phone call after we lost the first year [in the Catholic League quarterfinals] and he called me from the Palestra while he was watching, he goes ‘coach, we’ll be back here,’” Mosco recalled. “He’s a great kid, he’s great for the school, his parents did a great job with him and UConn’s getting a great one.”
Roman (10-3) got 22 points from junior guard Khalil Farmer and 13 from Daniel Skillings, neither of whom were at the school a year ago; Farmer came in from Shipley and Skillings from St. Joe’s-Hammonton (N.J.). The Cahillites are without most of their rotation from last year’s PCL runners-up, whether due to graduation (Lynn Greer III, Kyle Maska, Nasir Lett) or transfer (Jalen Duren, Justice Williams, Christian Kirkland).
Despite their relative youth and inexperience, the Cahillites led 17-16 after one quarter, though the Vikings surged ahead by halftime (33-29) and continued to open their lead to double digits by the end of the third (52-41).
Roman never gave up, but Wood was in control almost the entire stretch run, getting key reserve minutes from junior Mike Knouse (3 points, 6 rebounds) with Newton in some foul trouble.
Now that Wood has cleared its PCL hurdle, the games left for this senior group are four at most. There’s Wednesday night’s District 12 6A title game against Lincoln HS, in most years a formality but in this COVID season the only way for Wood to get into the state bracket, playing up in the PIAA’s largest classification for the first time. If the Vikings beat the Railsplitters, they’ll play District 11 6A champion William Allen on Saturday, March 20; winner of that game faces the District 1 6A champ on Tues., March 23 in the state semifinals.
“It’s a burden off our back, but the thing is we’re not done yet,” Stinson said. “We’ve got two more to go.”
Archbishop Wood: 16 | 17 | 19 | 16 || 68
Roman Catholic: 17 | 12 | 12 | 18 || 59
Archbishop Wood: 23-50 FG (8-22 3PT), 14-19 FT
Roman Catholic: 20-51 FG (7-25 3PT), 12-13 FT
Archbishop Wood: Stinson 21, Randolph 19, Diggins 9, Newton 9, Shepherd 8, Knouse 3
Roman Catholic: Farmer 22, Skillings 13, Radanovic 13, Brown 9, Anglin 2