HERSHEY >> Archbishop Wood got to Hershey wanting to win a state title.
The Vikings did that, but they also had an ulterior motive. They wanted their trip to the Giant Center to be the first of many in the coming years. Wood’s seniors won’t be a part of any future trips, but they laid the groundwork that very well could lead to it.
Friday night, as Wood dismantled Meadville, it was the team’s junior class that stole the show.
“They’re supposed to play that way at this time,” Wood coach John Mosco said. “By now, they’re seniors. We want them to be playing like seniors. It’s their time next year to shine.”
No player better showed that during the state playoffs than junior wing Ty Pickron. The 6-foot-3 sharpshooter scored a game-high 18 points in the state final and averaged 18.5 ppg in the five state games, totaling 92 points, including his 1,000th in the state quarters.
Guard Andrew Funk, who fittingly subbed in for senior Collin Gillespie as Gillespie exited for the last time, came into his own during the season and big man Seth Pinkney was a shot-blocking force throughout the postseason. Big Karrington Wallace, also a junior, had his share of moments and sophomore Julius Phillips gave Wood good minutes when he was called upon.
Whereas the seniors had more of a winding road to their primary roles, the underclassmen have been in a starring role since they came into the program. Gillespie and Keith Otto were football guys for two years before they dropped the sport to focus on hoops and in turn, got more minutes while Matt Cerruti spent his first two years at Lower Moreland and Shawn Thompson knew he was a role player and embraced it.
Meanwhile, Pickron and Pinkney were inserted as starters right off the bat, while Funk got some varsity minutes last year, especially during a stretch where his older brother Tommy, now at Army, was injured. Wallace was in a similar spot while Phillips split time this season.
“There’s nothing more that I’d want than to see these dudes come back here next year,” Otto said. “I got mine. What’s most important is they keep getting back here and getting to the Palestra and winning.”
Wood played an unselfish style of basketball all season, something instilled by the sacrifices the seniors made and that rubbed off on the underclassmen. Pickron, Funk and Pinkney are all talented enough to play at a Divison I level and Mosco believes Wallace and Phillips have that potential.
The Vikings played on a mission this season. Gillespie said that’s what needs to keep happening if Wood wants to make this an annual trip.
“They’ll have a target on their backs next year, but they can definitely handle it,” Gillespie said. “The junior class and Julius and even the freshmen this year and the incoming freshmen, they’re a tough group. They have to play with a chip on their shoulder just like we did this year.
“There’s going to be a huge target, everyone is going to want to beat them because of the three championships we won this year, so they’ll have to play with that chip night in and night out and take no one lightly.”
TWO FOR THE MONEY
Not many high school athletes get to win one state title in a given school year. Even fewer is the number that get to win two of them.
Such is life for Shawn Thompson right now. A trusted role player off the bench, Thompson went 2-for-2 in state title games during his senior year after helping Wood’s football team to a 5A title in early December.
“I’m a team player, I’ll do whatever the team wants me to do no matter what it is,” Thompson said. “If it was to play defense, I’ll play defense, whatever I can do to help the team win. It feels great because I helped my team win. I did everything I could to help my team win.”
Football is Thompson’s thing and has been his first love since he was a kid, but hoops provided the 5-foot-9 senior an outlet between the grind of football seasons. A relentless sledgehammer of a running back, Thompson hasn’t made his college choice yet but is leaning heavily toward East Stroudsburg.
Thompson has two state titles, three PCL titles and two District 12 championships in his three-year varsity football career and added another PCL, District 12 and state title in hoops this season. Not bad for a career.
Most of his highlights came in the fall, including a 285-yard rushing effort in a state playoff game but Thompson had his moments during the winter. The senior was a key part of Wood’s regular season win over Neumann-Goretti, coming off the bench to play physical defense on N-G star guard Quade Green.
Anytime Thompson scored, it got a huge reaction from the Vikings bench, an appreciation for a guy who bought into playing his role.
“It was crossing my mind (winning two state titles) but I wasn’t going to stress over it because I didn’t want to jinx myself,” Thompson said. “I was thinking about, kids at my school were talking about it, saying I’d be one of a few athletes to win two state championships in one year, let alone have the achievements I’ve had all four years.”
One thing all Wood’s players could agree on was the day their season turned a corner.
The Vikings closed the season on a 22-game winning streak, which started after they lost 68-60 to Father Judge back on Jan. 3. It was a wake-up call to start the 2017 portion of their schedule and as it turned out, exactly what the Vikings needed.
A couple days later, a portion of the wall in Wood’s gym collapsed and they wouldn’t play a real home again the rest of the season. It rallied the team together and their next contest, they went on the road to Archbishop Ryan and blew a good Raiders team out of its own gym.
“Last year, we would do some things like playing down to competition and not letting our abilities come out through the whole game,” Otto said. “This year it was a big mindset to play our game from the moment the tip is thrown up to the time the final buzzer sounds.”
Judge had a solid team this season, but the loss at the time was a bit of a head-scratcher. It more than served its purpose however.
“It gave us a different perspective of how the season could go, made us play with a chip on our shoulder every night,” Gillespie said.
LAST MAN IN
When Matt Cerruti left Lower Moreland to join the Vikings after his sophomore season, it wasn’t readily apparent where he would fit in against Catholic League competition.
Fast-forward two years and there was Cerruti, arguably Wood’s best defensive player all season, making big shot after big shot to keep Wood in the PCL final against Neumann-Goretti. The 6-foot-5 wing, who has a number of Division II offers, may have been the last key guy to join up for this run, but Wood doesn’t get this far without him.
“It’s just crazy, being at a smaller school like Lower Moreland you don’t think about as a senior, winning a state championship,” Cerruti said. “Now, being here with Archbishop Wood as a state champion, it’s not something you think of doing.”
Cerruti said what’s most going to stick out to him about this run is the crew Wood did it with.
“It is so fun, especially with the great players we have, nobody’s selfish,” Cerruti said. “Anyone can dominate on any day.
With the PIAA season over, the Vikings will go their separate ways for the spring and summer. Many of them will play in the Donofrio Classic starting Monday, and AAU season starts up soon.
Gillespie will be heading to Brooklyn to play in the Jordan Brand Classic Regional Game, joining Hatboro-Horsham senior Clifton Moore for the April 15 showcase game.