HERSHEY >> It wasn’t so much a state title game as it was a state title coronation.
Meadville came out slow, looked a little nervous and couldn’t buy a bucket in the first quarter. That was all the invitation Archbishop Wood needed to put its foot down and start crushing the throat. Wood stormed out to a big lead early and never let up.
Like they have done all season, the Vikings were efficient, they were mechanical and they were ruthless.
The result was a 73-40 win over Meadville in the boys’ Class 5A championship game Friday night at the Giant Center, handing Wood its first-ever state title.
“I’m just excited right now,” Wood senior point guard Collin Gillespie said. “We all wanted to win. We came out with the right mindset and finished.”
Wood certainly finished. The Vikings (28-3) won 22 straight games to end the season and on the way checked off every goal they had set for themselves during the season. They made won the PCL regular season title, they got to the Palestra, they won the PCL tournament title, won a District 12 title and rampaged their way through the PIAA bracket.
Meadville, the District X champion, had been playing well but the Bulldogs were no match. Gillespie started the game with a put-back hoop and after eight minutes, it was 17-5 Wood. It was 40-21 at the half and the Vikings put the game away in the third quarter.
“It’s crazy, it’s always a dream of any kid playing high school basketball in Pennsylvania to get here,” senior Matt Cerruti said. “To go out, in the last game of our four seniors’ career and win a state championship, you can’t really describe that.”
Gillespie was his brilliant all-around self, scoring 15 points, pulling down 10 rebounds and dishing eight assists in his final game. The unheralded recruit who blossomed into a future Villanova Wildcat encapsulated this Wood run better than anyone else.
First, he gave up football after his sophomore season to focus on hoops, then after being a secondary guy last season, seized the helm this year and continued to raise his play every time the situation demanded it. But he always kept his teammates involved, looking for them early and often as he continued to do on Friday.
“The thing that changed the season for us was the loss at home against Judge,” Gillespie said. “It gave us a different perspective of how the season could go, it made us play with a chip on our shoulder every night. The Catholic League was so tough, but that helped out.”
Wood didn’t lose again after that Judge game and it seemed like a different guy was rising up each night. Ty Pickron continued his excellent state tournament with a team-high 18 points on Friday, looking very much like a guy who will slide in as the team’s go-to guy next season.
The entire junior class rose to the occasion on Friday. Guard Andrew Funk, who was the guy who subbed in for Gillespie the final time, center Seth Pinkney and fellow forward Karrington Wallace all put a stamp on the game.
“We shared the ball, we did what we do,” Mosco said. “If you try to take one guy away, everyone else will step up. Ty Pickron has been stepping up, Andrew Funk and the guys you don’t hear about, Karrington Wallace and Seth Pinkney.”
Cerruti and senior Keith Otto combined for just nine points, but their impact stretches long beyond their scoring input. Otto, like Gillespie, gave up football to try and turn the program into a winner. Cerruti came along last year and along with the fourth senior, Shawn Thompson, instilled a culture of team over individuals.
“We just played with confidence, all of us,” Otto said. “We played together, we played like we’ve been playing all season, really. It feels great to be the first one on the banner. That was something Coach Mosco always told us. There was never a banner up there for basketball.”
Gillespie started the second half with a 3-pointer, then Pickron buried one from deep, Cerruti scored off a Gillespie assist, Gillespie had a steal and layup and Funk capped off a 12-3 run to open the third quarter. Wood led 52-24 and it was more a feeling of when than if Wood was going to make history.
Four players scored in double-figures, they played tight defense on a good team playing with a lot of confidence and even when the score got lopsided, they kept looking for each other. Granted, it was seeking out highlights, but it wasn’t one-on-five doing it.
Nothing seemed to faze this team, from losing their gym to a partial wall collapse in January, to trailing Neumann-Goretti by 13 at half in the PCL title to all the hard practices and long trips in between, Wood stayed steady. Their reaction to winning the state title seemed a little subdued, but maybe it’s because they expected it.
“It’s the same saying our coach has been saying, ‘never too high, never too low,’” Cerruti said. “We approach every game the same way. We did the same thing once again, and it worked for us all year. Hopefully, Coach Mosco continues to live by that motto. They’ll keep it rolling.”
“This year there was a big mindset to come out and play our game from the moment the tip was thrown up to the moment the final buzzer sounds,” Otto said. “It’s another thing our coaches have put in our head, our captains. We come out and play hard every time we hit the floor.”
Gillespie’s last shot was a deep 3-pointer from the top of the key, his last assist a long pass leading to a Julius Phillips dunk, a proverbial handing of the torch to an underclassman and giving them the team. He said the biggest thing the guys coming back can do is continue to play with a chip on their shoulder.
“There’s nothing more I want to see than these dudes to come back here,” Otto said. “I got mine. What’s most important is they keep coming back here and to the Palestra and winning.”
Even if Wood wins two, three or even five more of these in a row, none of them will be like this one. None of them will be the first.
“We had a great season, I’m just happy for this group in particular,” Gillespie said. “They worked really hard all season. The senior class, we really stepped us as leaders this year. It’s good to go out on top.”
MEADVILLE 5 16 8 11 – 40
ARCHBISHOP WOOD 17 23 18 15 – 73
Meadville: Armani Foster 6 2-3 17, Simeal Wofford 3 6-8 14, Lashon Lindsey 4 1-2 9. Nonscoring: Brown, Agnew, Wilson, Willis, Swick, Pero, Stevens, McElhinny, Rhoades, Ream. Totals: 13 9-13 40
Archbishop Wood: Collin Gillespie 6 0-0 15, Keith Otto 0 2-2 2, Ty Pickron 6 1-2 18, Seth Pinkney 5 1-2 11, Matt Cerruti 3 0-0 7, Andrew Funk 4 0-0 10, Julius Phillips 3 0-0 6, Karrington Wallace 2 0-0 4. Nonscoring: Shawn Thompson, Harrison, McNamee, Stock, Wade, Garland. Totals: 29 4-6 73
3-pointers: M- Foster 3, Wofford 2; AW – Pickron 5, Gillespie 3, Funk 2, Cerruti