READING >> After missing out on the Philadelphia Catholic League title, a young Archbishop Wood boys basketball team has set its sights on making sure its lone senior, Julius Phillips, finishes his high school career on a high note.
“Preseason (the goal) was PCL then it was we can’t leave Julius out without a state ‘chip,” Vikings sophomore Rahsool Diggins said. “If we win, he’d been the only one that win it two times in Wood history.”
Wood is a step closer to achieving that after Friday night’s trip to Reading High School. The Vikings couldn’t fully shake Pottsville but never lost the lead after strong finish to the first half and left the Geigle Complex with 55-43 victory over the District 11 champ Crimson Tide in the PIAA Class 5A quarterfinals.
“I felt the last two games we’ve been really zoned in on the defensive end,” Wood coach John Mosco said. “I thought we started zoned in and they made a couple shots and we lost focused but we stayed with it. We had a lot of guys stepped up – Brennen Kersey was wide open, hit a big three for us. It’s not one guy.”
The District 12 champ Vikings (19-8) had three players finish in double figures, led by Daeshon Shepherd, who scored 13 of his game-high 16 points in the first half.
I knew from the size advantage, I was the biggest one of the court,” Shepherd said. “So I used my height advantage to be a great player and step up today.”
Jaylen Stinson had with 15 points while Diggins added 14 points as Wood advances to the PIAA semis for the second time in three seasons to face defending 5A state champ Abington Heights Monday. The District 2 champ Comets topped District 1 champ Sun Valley 61-46 in their quarterfinal at Bethlehem Freedom.
“We got to just stay focused and they’re hard, you’re like at practice number 65, game number whatever,” Mosco said. “It’s a long run, I’ve been trying to tell them and they don’t want to practice tomorrow and the whole week’s been warm.
“You got young kids, 15, 16, lot of people think it’s easy cause you’re at a Catholic school – you know you’ve been hearing all the talk about (PIAA) separation – but they’re kids, we’re still coaching kids. It’s not anything different.”
Kevin Schenk paced Pottsville (25-4) with 12 points, seven coming in the first quarter. Mason Barnes and Trevor Sherakas both scored 11 points for the Crimson Tide.
“They played well, they didn’t quit – they’re a good team,” said Mosco of Pottsville. “They ran their offense. We got caught on a couple of switches that we shouldn’t have and we left guys open, they hit a couple big shots.
“I thought we were going well and then Daeshon Shepherd got his fourth foul and we had to play a lot without him. But that’s playing in the states, you don’t know what they’re going to call, you just got to keep playing through things.
After trailing 19-16 in the second quarter, Archbishop Wood capped the first half with a 13-2 run, a Phillips 3-pointer making it 29-21 Vikings at halftime. In the third, a putback by Phillips – who finished with seven points – gave Wood its first double-digit advantage at 34-23.
“I’ve been around for 25 years and we had four sophomores starting and one senior on the whole team,” Mosco said. “And for the senior to keep leading and understanding his role along with the sophomores and he doesn’t care if the sophomores are shining or he shining, he just plays every night and he’s consistent, Jul is.”
Wood was still up 11 after a Diggins triple made it 40-29 but Barnes buried back-to-back 3-pointers to get Pottsville within 40-35 as the Crimson Tide ended the third with a 9-2 burst. Schenk’s free throw after getting fouled right before the buzzer had Pottsville’s deficit down to 42-38 entering the fourth.
Shepherd picked up his fourth foul 45 seconds into the final quarter but Kersey provided his only three points of the night at a timely moment, taking a pass from a driving Diggins and draining a shot from beyond the arc for a 45-38 Wood advantage.
“Brennen don’t take a lot of shots but when I passed to him I knew it was good,” Diggins said. “That’s trust right there.”
An Aiden Stanton three had Pottsville back within four at 45-41 but the Crimson Tide could not get shots to fall down the stretch and finished with just five points in the fourth. Stinson’s pull-up jumper in the lane had Wood up 49-41 before Schenk dunk cut the margin to six at 49-43.
The Vikings proceeded to pull away from the foul line, Diggins hitting a pair with 1:38 remaining then Stinson going 4-for-4 at the stripe for a 55-43 lead at 51.5 seconds.
“We didn’t press a lot like we did the last two games,” Mosco said. “It was hot in there but he didn’t go to bench that much and I think we were able to wear them down, wide open for a couple jump shots and they missed them.”
Shephard sparked Wood to a fast start, the sophomore scoring seven points in the first quarter – banking in a shot off a drive for a three-point play to make it 8-2 at 6:07 then later finishing another drive to put the Vikings up 12-4.
“I think when he plays downhill he’s a hard matchup for anybody,” said Mosco of Shepherd. “It’s just his maturity in the beginning of the year, now he’s starting to mature and figure it out, not settling for the three.
“When he goes to the offensive glass he’s a beast. I don’t know how many defensive rebounds he had, he’s really playing well for us. It’s been everybody but he’s been special the last couple of games.
The Crimson Tide, however, ended the quarter with a 10-2 run – Schenk’s quick shot of an inbounds beating the buzzer to knot the contest at 14.
After Stinson’s jumper gave Wood a 16-14 lead the Crimson Tide responded with a Stanton three and Barnes basket to take a 19-17 lead. The Vikings answered back with six straight points, going back up 20-19 on a Diggins breakaway layup while Shepherd’s putback made it 22-19.
A Sherakas basket had Pottsville within 22-21 but Wood proceeded to score the next seven – Phillips collecting the last five, making two free throws with 1:15 left then knocking down a three for a 29-21 Vikings lead at the break.