COATESVILLE — Looking to reach the biggest stage in Pennsylvania boys high school basketball for the second time in three seasons, Reading High earned another 32 minutes on a magical night.
Leading from start to finish after scoring the first 13 points, the Red Knights defeated Spring-Ford 55-32 Tuesday in a PIAA Class 6A semifinal at Coatesville High.
Reading High will play District 12 champ Roman Catholic (27-3), which defeated Archbishop Wood 66-56 Tuesday, Saturday at Hershey’s Giant Center at 8 p.m., looking to win its third title in seven seasons. The Red Knights (31-1), who have not lost to a team from Pennsylvania this season, won state championships in 2017 and 2021.
FINAL — Reading 55, Spring-Ford 32
Red Knights run out 13-0 to start, never look back and will play for their third state title in seven years.
Spring-Ford’s magical season comes to an end in Coatesville. pic.twitter.com/niwSX1Jw6k
— Evan Wheaton (@EvanWheaton) March 22, 2023
“I can’t even explain the words; it’s a dream come true,” Reading High senior Ruben Rodriguez said. “We’ve been dreaming about this our whole lives and to be able to say we’re going to the state ‘chip is really crazy.”
Rodriguez, the Berks Player of the Year for the second straight season, led the way by scoring a game-high 20 points, including the 2,000th of his career. He is the seventh player in county history to reach that mark.
The milestone adds to a long list of accomplishments for Rodriguez, who has won four District 3 gold medals (three with Reading High, one with Muhlenberg), a state title and is a two-time first-team All-State selection.
“Honestly, it’s a blessing,” Rodriguez said. “I want to thank my family, and all my friends. My teammates at the end, once they saw me getting close, they just started giving me the ball. So that goes to show our selflessness and that’s what I love about them.”
Though he only had two points at halftime with his team up 22-13, Rodriguez scored seven in the third quarter before numerous trips to the foul line in the fourth upped his chances.
Rodriguez made 7-of-8 foul shots to help put him at 18 points late in the fourth. With just under two minutes to go, he hit a running jumper in the paint before being swarmed by his teammates in celebration.
Q4, 1:53 — There it is.
Ruben Rodriguez has scored his 2,000th point. pic.twitter.com/473EQLwsok
— Evan Wheaton (@EvanWheaton) March 22, 2023
“Aris (Rodriguez) was like the No. 1 person telling me, ‘Yo, you’re gonna get it,’” Ruben Rodriguez said. “When he’s giving me that much hype it just makes me want to go do it. I love him for that, and I love all my teammates. They were really happy for me and I appreciate that.”
Aris Rodriguez, who ended with 12 points, led all scorers with 10 points in the first half as Reading High controlled the tempo early by capitalizing on turnovers.
The Red Knights led 13-3 after the first quarter, and led by as much as 15 in the first half at 22-7. The District 1 runner-up Rams (28-4) hit their first field goal with 6:36 left in the second quarter courtesy of EJ Campbell, who finished with a team-high 17 points.
Aris Rodriguez said forcing five turnovers in the first quarter and continuing its relentless defensive pressure was key.
“We knew that they were going to come out and give us a game, but we had to stay composed and play our game,” Aris Rodriguez said. “We play defense and if you fold with our defense, we’ll take advantage.”
The Rams, in the state semis for the first time, showed signs of life, scoring the final six points of the first half and the first field goal of the third quarter. However, Reading High burst ahead on a 14-2 run over the remainder of the third with Spring Ford’s only other points coming from the foul line.
According to Rams coach Joe Dempsey, the Red Knights’ fast pace proved to be too much to handle.
“We weren’t going to play at an entirely slow pace; what we wanted to do was just have more efficient possessions,” Dempsey said. “I’m not sure how much we turned it over. We just couldn’t score so they kept building on their lead. And then obviously, we had to alter the way we approach the offense. Trying to run quick hitters against Reading isn’t exactly a fun exercise.
“I felt good at halftime, actually. I told the guys, ‘Let’s try to chip away.’ We scored right out of the gate and I felt defensively we were okay; I just thought offensively we couldn’t score.
“It’s so hard to simulate that pressure. And we had one day to prepare really. We gave the guys off on Sunday, but yeah, we weren’t going to slow it down. You can’t slow it down totally against Reading. We couldn’t be as deliberate as we wanted, and obviously we weren’t very efficient. We didn’t get really good, clean looks.”
Though the Rams came in with a strong defense, only allowing just 45.2 points per game, Red Knights coach Rick Perez knew his team would be heading to Hershey if it had the right matchups.
Aside from Campbell’s 17 points, the Rams struggled offensively.
Jacob Nguyen, who came in averaging 16.5 points per game and with 76 3-pointers, finished with six points and no 3-pointers. Tommy Kelly, who came in averaging 7.7 points, finished with four.
“We really took away their three primary scorers,” Perez said. “We really fought over screens, made it difficult for them to get through their screens and get into their patterns, just wanted to disrupt it, and we didn’t let them get downhill.”
For Perez, Ruben Rodriguez’s accomplishment is another sign of the Rider University commit’s exceptional talent and drive.
“Ruben’s magical,” Perez said. “Anything he does never surprises anybody. Anymore, he just always finds a way to prevail. He’s a winner; a born winner.”