CHAMBERSBURG >> “100-percent. Next question.”
That was Taylor Allderdice head coach Buddy Valinsky’s succinct answer as to how much his custom junk defense was geared toward stopping Reading star Lonnie Walker IV at the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals.
Valinsky called it his “1-3-chaser.” It was a gloried box-and one, with the instruction that Walker was to be double-teamed every time he put the ball on the floor. Allderdice’s “chaser” was Tim Jackson, a Division I football prospect with the athleticism to stay with Walker, a Division I basketball prospect.
Whatever it was, defined, it worked. Reading High’s junior superstar was held to six points — two late field goals and two first-half free throws — as the Dragons clinched their first ever championship game appearance with a 70-45 win over the Red Knights at Chambersburg High School.
Allderdice (28-1) will play Roman Catholic for the Class AAAA state title Friday at Giant Center. Philly’s champs beat Plymouth-Whitemarsh, 64-45 in the other state semi. Reading’s storybook run, to its first state semifinal since 1983, ends at 28-4.
It wasn’t just that Walker didn’t infiltrate the score book — he didn’t influence the game. Coming off a 30-point effort against Chester in the quarterfinal, Walker attempted just five shots. For long stretches he didn’t even possess the ball in his hands.
“To play a defense like that, you need to have the players who can do it,” Valinsky said. “I have the players who can do it, and I’ve said that all along. I have the pieces to the puzzle and I’m a lucky coach. They did what they wanted to do.”
With Walker neutralized, the other Knights needed to step up — and for a while, they did. Reading head coach Rick Perez said the Knights recognized what was happening right away and made adjustments but didn’t drain the shots.
“We just didn’t hit our shots well,” Perez said. “We didn’t hit our corner 3’s that we usually knock down. We attacked it very well; we got the ball to the elbow and the short corners, but we just didn’t finish. The ball didn’t fall in the hoop.”
Tim Jackson’s assignment on Walker had the Dragons’ forward on edge to the point where he was whistled for a technical foul midway through the second quarter, after saying something to an official when a call didn’t go Allderdice’s way. Senior Reading backcourt mates Khary Mauras and Damon Stern, knowing Walker was scoreless at that point, tried to get their junior in the groove.
“Everything is about flow. If you take Tito Jackson out of the Jackson 5, how they gonna sound? Damon Stern, Khary Mauras recognized the importance of getting him in the flow, and they put him on the line for the technical free throws. He (Walker) did some good defensive things for us and some big hustle plays, but unfortunately, it wasn’t his time to put the ball in the hoop today.”
Ironically, Walker’s made freebies gave Reading what would prove to be its final lead of the season, at 20-18, with slightly more than three minutes to play in the first half. The Dragons responded with a 7-0 run to establish a beachhead they would not surrender.
A 25-24 Allderdice halftime lead ballooned to 48-37 after three. James Jackson and the Dragons’ trap pressure rattled the Knights, who turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions inside a minute to play in the quarter, a sign that things were beginning to unravel for the District 3 champions. Jackson glided in far a pair of uncontested baskets to make it a 44-33 game with 55 seconds left in the third.
The sequence produced the first double-digit lead for either team.
A 22-8 fourth-quarter run popped the air out of an arena that was a solidly partisan crowd, in excess of 80-percent, for the Knights.
“They got their run-outs, they started getting stops and they were a very fast, athletic team,” Perez said. “They were grabbing a lot of rebounds that we had in our hands that were slipping out and finishing them. They were very fast team in transition.”
James Jackson was unable to be corralled by the Knights. He scored 32 points — 19 of those in the second half — and was to Dice what Reading got from Walker during the quarterfinal versus Chester. Ramon Creighton added 14 and Tim Jackson 12.
Mauras led Reading in his final high school game with 16 points.