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PIAA Class 6A boys basketball: Reading holds off a furious Chester comeback from 18 down

CHESTER — Weshly Rosario had the right mindset at halftime, though he and his Reading teammates let it wane by the end of the third quarter.

Up 13 at the break at the Fred Pickett Gymnasium Saturday in the first round of the PIAA Class 6A Tournament, the sophomore guard knew that Chester wasn’t going to go quietly, even after a first half of haymakers.

“We went to the locker room and said, this is going to be crazy and we need to stay ready,” Rosario said. “We know we can finish good if we can stay together.”

But when the Red Knights unleashed their next salvo, knocking the Clippers down 18 points late in the third quarter, a little overconfidence crept in. For just a moment, Reading thought it might have one foot in the second round.

Instead, Reading required every second of the 32 minutes and a fortunate call at the buzzer to get there.

Chester trailed the entire way, and a shot by Dallas Thompson at the horn where he and Reading forward Xavier Beatty made a lot of contact went uncalled as Reading survived a 65-63 thriller.

Thompson had two looks to try to tie or go ahead in the final 12 seconds. The first was a drive on which Reading’s Nicholas Sosa tied him up before he got a shot off. The possession arrow pointed Reading’s way, and Rosario made one of two at the line to make it 65-63.

With 5.6 seconds left and the length of the court to go, Dante Atkinson filtered the ball to Thompson down the left wing. Thompson drove baseline and released a floater 10 feet from the basket as Beatty leapt to contest. Thompson hit the deck, the shot hit the back of the backboard and the referees ruled the clock had hit all zeroes.

“It was no hesitation,” Thompson said. “I know my role, knew what I had to do was get to the basket. I believed it should’ve been a foul called or they said it was and they waved it off at the end of the game, but I just knew I needed to get to the basket.”

Reading's Nick Chapman drives past Chester's guard Jaseir Thompson on Saturday. (Bill Snook/For Media News Group)
Reading’s Nick Chapman drives past Chester’s guard Jaseir Thompson on Saturday. (Bill Snook/For Media News Group)

Thompson and Atkinson were the main protagonists in the second half of a classic matchup between two of the state’s most illustrious programs, 11 state titles between them. All the pregame hype — The High vs. El Castillo en la Collina, #FearTheShip vs. #ForTheCulture — came through in an enthralling if perplexing affair.

Saturday’s game breathed new life into bromides about basketball as a game of runs.

Reading, the fourth-place team from District 3, started on fire, a 3-pointer from Malik Osumanu at 3:22 of the first giving it a 16-3 lead. Chester (20-5) would roar back to tie it at 16 early in the second, part of a 15-2 run.

The Clippers kept Reading without a made field goal for the final 3:22 of the first and the first 3:22 of the second — how’s that for peculiar — to tie the game at 20. At which point Reading tore off its own 15-2 run, a DaQuan Burgess triple sending them into the locker room up 33-20.

Burgess only hit two baskets, but both were monumental. The second came at 2:12 of the third when he corralled a loose ball and buried a 3-pointer to make it 52-34. A lead that had shrunk to eight bumped to 18 with a 10-0 spurt.

Reading's Nick Chapman rises for a layup over the defense of Chester's Jaseir Thompson, left, and Dominic Toy. (Bill Snook/For Media News Group)
Reading’s Nick Chapman rises for a layup over the defense of Chester’s Jaseir Thompson, left, and Dominic Toy. (Bill Snook/For Media News Group)

And Reading (20-10) was, perhaps only momentarily, looking ahead.

“I’m not going to lie, I think that we thought that,” Rosario said. “Eighteen points in the third quarter, you know there’s not much time left.”

But District 1 fourth seed Chester had an answer.

In the first half, it couldn’t sustain a half court offense, Reading’s length nullifying the playmaking of big Dominic Toy and Reading’s guards superior defenders. Speeding up benefited Reading’s offense.

So Thompson and Atkinson took charge. Thompson scored 11 of his 14 points in the third to go with two assists. His wing 3-pointer at the horn helped Chester respond with a 12-0 run and somehow nudge within 52-46.

“We lead the team. We create plays,” Thompson said. “Him being a senior, I know he wanted to lead the team. Me being a junior, I had to set the tone for the team.”

“You’ve just got to keep your head,” Atkinson said of managing the pendulum swings. “It’s a mental thing. You can’t lose it out there. You’ve got to stay focused.”

Atkinson took over in the fourth. He scored Chester’s first eight points of the frame, back-to-back 3-pointers cutting the deficit to 56-54.

“It felt good,” Atkinson said. “It was time to take leadership for both of us. It was time to go.”

Chester's Dominic Toy collects a rebound. (Bill Snook/For Media News Group)
Chester’s Dominic Toy collects a rebound. (Bill Snook/For Media News Group)

Toy got Chester within two at 58-56 with a jumper, then after a Jalen Harris steal, Thompson was fouled. He had to exit, and Jaseir Thompson tied the game with two at the line at 58.

Baskets by Beatty and Yadiel Cruz, both set up by Rosario, put Reading up four. Cruz had 17 points, eight in the fourth quarter, plus seven rebounds.

“When I got to the locker room with him, we are Spanish guys,” Rosario said of Cruz. “He was smart, he was saying, I’m missing every layup. I said, ‘the time is coming, just stay ready. I’m looking for you.’ He said, ‘OK, I got you.’ And then he came into the second half and he got it.”

Toy and Cruz traded two at the line before Atkinson bombed to the hole for a 1-and-1. He missed the free throw, Chester down 64-62 with 56.1 left.

A Rosario miss led to Toy hitting one at the line to claw within one with 35.1 left. Daron Harris pestered Rosario into a double dribble at halfcourt, leading to the Sosa tie-up and the final-minute controversy.

Osumnau also scored 17 points, 12 in the first half, on 7-for-10 shooting. Nick Chapman supplied 11 before fouling out. Rosario was limited to eight points but was outstanding on the floor, with five rebounds, eight assists and seven steals.

Atkinson led Chester with 16 points, 10 in the fourth. Toy had 12 points, six rebounds and three steals. Dallas Thompson had 13 points, Daron Harris 11 and Jalen Harris eight.

It’s not the ending Chester had pictured. But it was yet another reminder of how this year’s group has restored vintage Chester hoops to a team that didn’t so much as make districts last year.

“It’s definitely a big bounce back from last year,” Dallas Thompson said. “… We came in with a mindset to try to win this year and make it far in the playoffs. We came up short both times. It’s a sour taste in our mouths but I feel like we can make something happen next year.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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