READING>> Berks Catholic has its county title and head coach Snip Esterly has his 700th career win. Not a bad night at the office. Not at all.
The office on this night was hardwood at Santander Arena in Reading and the Saints ruled it like a boss. Berks Catholic captured the BCIAA title with a 51-46 win over defending league (and PIAA 6A) champion Reading, 51-46.
Berks Catholic never trailed in delivering a county crown during the program’s seventh season, since the diocese merger of Reading Central Catholic and Holy Name formed the school on the latter’s campus in 2011. The closest the Red Knights got, after an opening 13-2 volley in favor the Section 2 champs, was within two points twice — at 43-41 and 47-45 — in the game’s flickering moments.
“All I can say is, I’m so happy to for these kids to win a county title,” Esterly said, deflecting away from his own momentous personal achievement. “I always them, if you get awards within a team concept, it’s great. We never stress the individual and we’re certainly not going to do that now. It’s all about these kids winning the county title.
“I can’t say enough about these kids. They play their hearts out. The chemistry on this team is second to none. It is so enjoyable to go to the gym and coach these guys. I’m very, very lucky.”
The Saints did it by working all angles on the floor — paced by perimeter sharpshooting from Tre Dabney and backed by an authoritative paint presence from Keba Mitchell. Mitchell didn’t win all the battles and fouled out with 2:24 to go, but the 6-foot-3 senior forward didn’t let Reading run wild inside either, playing several inches above his listed height.
“Keba’s timing is incredible, he can time it so well,” Esterly said. “He plays like he’s 6-7 because he’s so long-armed and he can jump out of the building. He was bothered by an ankle the last couple of weeks but now he’s rounding back into form, which is nice for us.”
The saints also took relative care of the basketball while in possession and were able to stunt Reading’s preferred open-floor game by hustling back to close gaps on defense.
“We took care of the ball,” Esterly said. “I thought our guards did a great job with that, in not letting them get transition points. Reading High is so transitional, all I said was, ‘give yourselves a chance to play defense because you can flat-out play defense. Limit easy buckets.’ And I think we did that tonight.”
Reading’s biggest run was a product of drawing fouls late, an 11-2 effort midway through rhe fourth quarter that shaved a 41-30 deficit to 43-41.
“I was nervous,” Esterly admitted. “I wanted to make sure we continued to take care of the ball and I knew it was going to come down to foul shots.” BC hit 8 of 11 from the line under 2:30 to play.
BC didn’t wilt. One converted free throw each from Dabney and Casey Jack, followed by a layup from big man Luke Painton off an in-bounds pass, restored order at 47-41 and proved enough to see it through.
“What is so special about this, is that in districts you’re playing the same size school,” Esterly said. “In counties, just like Lancaster does it, you can play anybody. And Reading is a fantastic team. I watched them beat State College and Hazelton, which are two fantastic ballclubs. To beat Reading here, on what is effectively their home floor, is tremendous.”
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