READING — After a shaky start, some tough second-half defense cured all ills for the Reading High boys basketball team which earned its coveted 10th win.
The Rockets trailed just about for all three quarters until they went on a 14-0 run late in the third quarter until 2:22 was left in the game to go on to a 44-40 win over Arlington at Hawkes Field House last Thursday.
The victory in the team’s final regular-season game allowed Reading (10-10, 8-8 ML) to qualify for the MIAA tournament, its first berth in three years. At one point this season the Rockets were 4-8 and their prospects did not look good.
But five straight wins and six in their last eight got the Rockets into the postseason.
The Rockets didn’t secure the decision until the final seconds. After their 14-0 run to made it a 42-32 Reading lead, Arlington scored eight straight points to cut its once 10-point deficit to just two points with 47.1 left.
After a Reading turnover with 20.9 left the Rockets were able to stall out the ensuing Arlington possession with fouls. The Rockets were not over the limit so they could commit stategic fouls and force Arlington to inbound the ball.
With the ball, and six seconds left, an inbound pass was deflected by Reading’s Pat Conroy to Taylor Marchant, who was fouled with 4.2 seconds left.
Marchant then calmly drained both free throws off the one-and-one to extend Reading’s lead to four points. Arlington’s inbounds pass was stolen by the Rockets at half court and Reading was able to run out the final few seconds as the team and some students, who came out of the crowd, celebrated.
The Rockets were led by the stellar play of senior co-captain Matt Sannella, who led all scorers with 17 points including two big 3-pointers. Marchant added 10 points to help in the win.
“I felt we defended better and hit a few more shots as the first half went on, which helped us set our defense,” said Reading coach Paul Morrissey. “We kept chipping away and got it close but couldn’t get over the hump. But then in the fourth quarter we finally hit shots and played great defense to take the lead.”
The Spy Ponders led most of the first three quarters behind the play of Brendan McNamara who finished with a team-high 15 points, while Stephen MacGillivray added 10 points. But Arlington went cold from the floor for most of the fourth quarter which ultimately did it in and allowed Reading to work its way back
“Reading just played harder and more physical than us, and we couldn’t get into our offense,” said Arlington coach John Bowler. “Reading had their backs against the wall trying to make the tournament, and they played better than us. That’s why they won.”
Initially the Ponders did have a scoring touch and Reading came out tight with six first-quarter turnovers.
This got Arlington into an 11-5 lead late in the first quarter. Marchant finally stopped the run with a 3-pointer, to cut Reading’s deficit to 13-8 by the end of the quarter.
Arlington scored to begin the second quarter which actually gave the Spy Ponders their biggest lead of the game at seven (15-8).
The Rockets then surged as baskets by Danny Bekkenhuis, Josh Williamson, and Marchand sparked a 7-3 run, that cut Reading’s deficit to 16-15 halfway through the second quarter.
But the Ponders responded with three baskets by McNamara, while MacGillivray and Jhalani Joshua also hit shots, to help Arlington close the first half with a 26-23 lead.
The third quarter become a defensive struggle as both teams missed several shots from the floor. The saving grace for the Rockets during this stretch was Sannella who scored all seven of his team’s points. Arlington only scored six.
The turning point in the game occurred late in the third quarter. The Spy Ponders got out in transition with a 32-28 lead but the player missed the wide open layup and then a teammate missed the open putback that would have put them up by six.
Reading then went on its 14-0 run.
Patrick Conroy, who did a nice job defending Emerson College-bound James Gascoigne, came through also with two baskets attacking the rim. Javon Nortelus also drove to the hoop and scored twice inside.
The Rockets also played incredible defense at this juncture and slowed down McNamara and the rest of the Arlington offense. Reading didn’t allow a point until 2:22 was left in the final quarter.
But it was the determination and leadership of Sannella that was the key according to Morrissey.
“Matt (Sannella) has grinded it out all year, and he really stepped up for us tonight,” said Morrissey. “Once he missed a shot, but got his own rebound and put it back up and in, and that’s who Matt is. He’s a grinder and a great senior leader. I also felt Josh (Williamson) played great defense for us.”
The Spy Ponders were coming off an emotional Senior Night loss to Belmont but certainly had enough focus last night to give Reading problems.
“Reading just played physical defense in the third quarter and most of the fourth quarter,” said Bowler. “They pushed the ball up the court and were in the right spots to take good shots. They wanted the game more than we did.”
Just when it appeared the Rockets were safely ahead at 42-32 with 2:22 left, the Ponders finally started hitting shots to ignite a comeback bid.
James Gascoigne hit a lay-in and two free throws, and MacGillivray and McNamara also scored, to spark a 10-0 run that cut Arlington’s deficit to two points, 42-40, with 47.1 seconds left in the game.
“We did a good job climbing back into it near the end, but we had some bad turnovers, and they had many fouls to give,” said Bowler. “We couldn’t get a good shot off at the end.”
So the three-year drought is over for the Rockets with another tournaey berth.
“It feels fantastic to make the tournament, and I feel great for these kids, they worked hard and fought through injuries all year,” said Morrissey. “Once we were 4-8 and now we’re 10-10, and that shows they never gave up and they believed what they’re doing.”