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PIAA Class AA/AAAA: Big-name matchups highlight Saturday's quarterfinals

03/12/2016, 5:30am EST
By Josh Verlin

Lonnie Walker (above) and Chester come to Philly to meet at Temple's Liacouras Center on Saturday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

When the PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal locations were announced, Bensalem HS didn’t seem to be the best fit to host Reading vs. Chester.

First there was the location, in Chester’s home District 1--though Bensalem is certainly nowhere near Chester.

On top of that, Bensalem’s gym didn’t seem quite big enough to hold a game between the District 1 runner-up Clippers and District 3 champion Red Knights, whose two fanbases are amongst the largest and most devoted in the state.

So within three hours of the original announcement, the venue was moved to Temple’s Liacouras Center, whose 10,000 seats could be filled with the Chester and Reading faithful on Saturday at noon.

“I’d like to thank the PIAA for making that accommodation and really acknowledging both of our followings and our communities,” Reading head coach Rick Perez said. “This gives everybody a fair chance with the least stress possible to enjoy the game, not only the people from the Reading and Chester community but people who just enjoy watching basketball.

Reading has never won a state championship, though it’s taken the District 3 title 20 times in its storied history.

The presence of star junior Lonnie Walker, a 6-5 wing with offers from high-major schools across the country, plus a talented supporting cast has the Red Knights fanbase thinking this could be the year.

Going through a Chester program that’s won eight state titles and many more district crowns would make quite a statement on that journey.

“It means a lot in the history of the rivalry, with respect to both traditions and what they have built,” Perez said. “So it means a lot in that sense, (but) for us tomorrow, we need to put it in perspective for what it means for us now. We just have to make sure that we’re the best form of ourselves, we don’t get caught up in the opponent and who it is--maybe one day we’ll reflect on ‘wow, man, remember that?’”

Reading and Chester met once this season on Reading’s home court, which helped the Red Knights to a 69-57 win behind 18 points from Walker and 17 from senior guard Khary Mauras, plus a big six points and 10 rebounds from senior center Oenis Medina.

They’ll need a similar full-team effort in Round 2, as these Clippers are not lacking for size, athleticism and experience. Seniors Maurice Henry (6-9), Marquis Collins (6-7) and DeShawn Hinson (6-5) lead an impressive group that also has junior forwards Jordan Camper (6-7) and Jamar Sudan (6-6), plus 6-4 senior wings Stanley Davis and Jahmi Bailey-Green.

“They’re the same old Chester,” Perez said. “They’re just long, lanky, they’re going to look to press you, they’re going to hit the boards and you’ve just got to beat them to the punch, you’ve just got to be tougher, it’s going to come down who’s tougher tomorrow.”

Devante Cross (above) and a few other Trojans were still in football mode the last time Parkland met Roman. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Those in the basketball community have a lot to look forward to on Saturday, with the PIAA Class AA and AAAA quarterfinals all taking place.

One other heavyweight clash that’s a rematch of a December game will tip off at 1 PM at Council Rock South, when District 11 champ Parkland (27-3) takes on Catholic League and District 12 champion Roman Catholic (24-4).

Roman took the earlier game 70-38 to open the season on December 5, but that’s not an indication of how good the Trojans are at this point in the season. Parkland was without two starters, point guard Devante Cross and senior forward Kenny Yeboah, plus key reserve Zach Bross, all of whom were on the school’s state runner-up football team; Cross, a 6-3 Virginia-bound QB, and Yeboah, a 6-5 Temple-bound WR/TE, are both incredibly valuable on the hardcourt as well.

“Yeboah, he adds a physical presence, a lot of strength inside, a real big body to be able to bang around and get rebounds and hopefully do some scoring for us,” head coach Andy Stephens said. “And Devante’s an excellent defender and he really controls things as the point guard, he’s become a much smarter point guard.

“I think both of them bring a confidence and a chip on our shoulder that I think we were lacking a little bit before,” he added.

Yeboah and Cross join 6-6 junior wing forward Sam Iorio, 6-5 shooting guard/Lafayette commit Kyle Stout and 6-4 senior guard Jack Dreischbach in the starting lineup, and those five will all need to bring their best game to the table to battle a talented Roman lineup.

Penn State commits Tony Carr, a 6-4 point guard, Lamar Stevens, a 6-6 wing and Nazeer Bostick, a 6-4 wing, lead the charge for Chris McNesby's Cahillites, and the three of them tend to do most of the heavy lifting as well. Senior forward Paul Newman, a 6-7 post, has some strong games but can go quiet in others, while 6-3 junior D'Andre Vilmar brings additional athleticism and toughness to the wing.

“I think the keys to victory are to be assertive, both offensively and defensively," Stephens said. "Another key is to make them work defensively, no easy possession where we take quick shots or bad shots, make them work a little bit on the defensive end, and I think we need to gang rebound, we need to rebound as a collective group, not just two or three guys but all five of our guys, to keep them off the glass.”


Kar'ron Johnson (left) and Conwell-Egan are back in the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

In other games involving area teams on Saturday:

AA: Conwell-Egan (12-1) vs. Camp Hill (3-2)
Where: Geigle Complex, Reading
When: 1:00 PM
How they got here: Conwell-Egan def. Upper Dauphin (62-38), Minersville (54-51); Camp Hill def. Masterman (70-48), EL Meyers (45-40)

Skinny: Conwell-Egan survived its last matchup with Minersville, leaving head coach Frank Sciolla happy about advancing but frustrated with just about every other aspect of his team's performance after they coasted by double-digits en route to the state title a year ago. LaPri McCray-Pace had 30 in the win over the Miners, making him the team's second all-time leading scorer with 1,250 points, but his Eagles can't put out the same defensive effort they showed on Wednesday if they expect to top the Lions.

AA: Mastery Charter North (12-3) vs. Trinity (3-1)
Where: Geigle Complex, Reading
When: 2:30 PM
How they got here: Mastery Charter North def. Mahanoy Area (66-38), Danville (85-52); Trinity def. Holy Cross (60-43), def. Parkway Center City (67-48)

Skinny: Trinity's towering frontline of 6-10 sophomore Sean Good and 6-8 senior Jack Vukelich sets them apart from the rest of the Class AA pack, with 6-4 sophomores Timmy Edwards and Jack Bucher plus 6-3 junior Austin Gilbertson giving them serious length all over the court. Gilbertson led the way in the game over Parkway CC, dropping 28 points, including three 3-pointers. The Shamrocks love to shoot, and when they hit they're incredibly dangerous--as they showed with a bang-bang-bang 17-2 run that made the difference in the win over the Bulldogs. Mastery Charter North, who went undefeated in the Public League's "C" Division before losing in the Pub semis, won this matchup last year, getting 40 points from Rodney Ross, Eli Alvin and Daeqwon Plowden in that second-round victory that ended Trinity's season.

AAAA: Plymouth-Whitemarsh (1-1) vs. Simon Gratz (12-3)
Where: Archbishop Ryan HS
When: 2:30 PM
How they got here: Plymouth-Whitemarsh def. Lebanon (81-41), Bangor (58-44); Simon Gratz def. Lower Merion (63-61 OT), def. J.P. McCaskey (64-56)

Skinny: Three of the four Class AAAA games have local representation, but only this one pits two Philly-area squads head-to-head with a semifinal berth on the line. The Colonials (27-2) were expected to be here after a one-loss regular season and a District 1 AAAA championship, but Gratz’s furthest-ever run in the state tournament has been much less expected. P-W made it this far a year ago as the second seed out of District 1, losing to Martin Luther King in the semifinals, but (despite graduating two key seniors) this is a veteran group led by Rider commit Xzavier Malone. Jim Donofrio will likely need to turn to sophomore twins Ahmad and Ahmin Williams to help slow down Gratz’s Tyriek Meredith, Jamal Goode and Johnny Eden, but the Bulldogs could have trouble with P-W’s size, including 6-6 Mike Lotito, the 6-4 Malone and fellow seniors Kevin Ashenfelter (6-4) and Oakley Spencer (6-3).

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