Reading’s season ends in heart-breaker loss to Pennridge

WEST LAWN >> Reading’s 2014-15 basketball season disintegrated in 111 chaotic seconds.

District 1 entrant Pennridge scored the final six points of the game Saturday night to knock off Reading, 61-59, in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs at Wilson High School, in what was basically a home game for Red Knights.

Down two points with eight seconds left on an inbounds play, Reading’s Ty Gibson appeared to trip up cutting in for what would have been a game-tying layup as time expired. Gibson received a pass from Lonnie Walker on the perimeter with two seconds to play, but his attempt from the left side spun wildly in the air when he appeared to lose his footing.

Pennridge outplayed Reading for long stretches Saturday night — including when it mattered most — while enduring a hostile standing-room-only crowd at Wilson.

The Red Knights held a 59-53 with 1:51 to play after Khary Mauras converted a fast break layup on a pinpoint feed from Walker from midcourt. The packed, roaring gym resonated with inevitability.

But those were the final points Reading would score.

Reading head coach Rick Perez tried, and failed, to discuss the closing stretch. Near tears, a long silence was followed with, “To be honest, fellas, I don’t want to talk about this game.”

The key sequence commenced at the 1:37 mark, when Pennridge’s Zach Muredda scored on a layup and drew the fifth and final foul on Justin Kellman. Muredda — who tied with teammate Joe Molettiere for game-high honors with 18 points — missed the and-1 freebie, but another Reading foul on the inbounds turned the ball back over to the Rams.

Five seconds later, Dan Long nailed a huge 3-pointer from deep in the left-hand corner, and Pennridge was within one at 59-58.

The next 50 seconds were a blur of rushed basketball, full of turnovers and mayhem. A hard foul knocked down a Pennridge player on the baseline, and what looked to be a clean block in the paint was called a foul with 41.9 seconds to go.

Already well in the bonus, Muredda was offered a pair at the line but missed both. Immediately, the whistle blew again, this time on Reading’s Isiah Cook, sending Joe Unangst to the line. He drained both, and the Rams led 60-59.

Reading missed a jump shot at its end, then Long was fouled with 16 seconds left. He hit 1-of-2 for a two-point lead, setting up the final frantic seconds.

Reading raced to an 11-4 lead midway through the first quarter, forcing Rams’ coach Dean Behrens to call time out. In what was a recurring pattern, Pennridge continued to chip away and play solid basketball while the Knights pushed for a knockout punch that never came.

Pennridge used Reading’s haphazard first-half play against the Knights by reeling off a 21-8 run bridging the first and second quarters to establish a 32-23 lead late in the half. The Knights closed solidly to trail 34-27 at the break.

Reading came out sizzling in the third quarter, including an electrifying sequence set up by a pair of steals that almost brought the roof down. Mauras found a skying Walker for a thunderous jam to tie the game at 38. Damon Stern nailed a deep 3-ball from the right side corner for a 41-38 lead next trip down, then another steal and another sharp outlet pass from Walker led to dunk by Ty Gibson.

The Rams called time out, took a deep breath, and went back to work. Refusing to be rattled, they came all the way back to grab a 51-49 lead with 4:04 left when Unangst’s triple found twine.

Reading counterpunched with a 10-4 response to set up the home stretch.

“Here’s what I liked about what our team did,” Behrens said. “Down 11-4, we had to call a quick time out. Obviously, Reading’s a good ball club and they go for the haymaker and try to knock you out. Our kids responded, like they have all year. They didn’t buckle under. Our kids are pretty mentally tough.”

Walker led Reading with 15 points. Gibson – who wore No. 40 during the final seconds after getting blood on his normal No. 2 jersey — added 13.

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