WAKEFIELD — In a game of runs that could have swung the outcome either way, the Reading boys basketball team made one last run in the final minute, which proved to be decisive and lifted the Rockets to a big tournament win.
The Rockets extended a third-quarter lead to 10 points heading into the final quarter, but Wakefield came back to take a two-point lead with just over a minute left.
But, 13th-seeded Reading rallied back in the final minute as Pat Conroy’s three-point play and three free throws by Matt Sannella closed out a 56-53 victory over fourth-seeded Wakef-ield, in a first round Division 2 North tournament game at Charbonneau Field House last night.
The win allows Reading (11-10) to advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2012. The Rockets will play at the winner of Wednesday’s Danvers at Gloucester game on Saturday at 4 p.m.
Last night’s tourney win on the road was the program’s first since winning at Chelsea in 2010.
The Rockets seemingly had this win locked up after taking a 45-35 lead into the fourth quarter. Content to run the shot clock, and play defense, the strategy was working for a bit.
Reading still led 49-39 with 5:00 left before the Warriors found a spark behind two 3-pointers from Patrick Hannigan that ultimately became a 12-0 Wakefield run. After Aidan Cusack capped that run with two free throws with 1:19 left, the Rockets trailed 51-49.
But Conroy responded with a strong finish to the basket and was fouled. He calmly convereted the free throw to give his team back the lead at 52-51 with :57.2 left to play.
Then after a missed shot by Wakefield, Sannella was fouled and hit two free throws with 28 seconds left to extend the lead to three. Mike O’Keefe got the quick two for Wakefield to trim the lead to 54-53.
Reading’s Jovan Nortelus was fouled and hit one of two free throws to give Reading a 55-53 lead with nine seconds left.
Wakefield’s Ryan Marcus then drove down court and went inside, but Taylor Marchand contested his shot and it missed. Sannella got the rebound and was fouled with 1.5 seconds left. He hit one free throw to extend Reading’s lead to three, and a last second desperation shot by Marcus fell well short of the basket, allowing Reading to escape with the win.
“After Wakefield’s run, Pat (Conroy) got the ball inside and made an and-one, which was a big play,” said Reading coach Paul Morrissey. “We don’t always make things easy, but we didn’t hang our heads, and we got the shots we wanted.”
Sannella was his usual steady self as the team’s senior leader. The 5-11 guard and co-captain led the offense with 15 points, while Marchant added 12 points, and Danny Bekkenhuis came in off the bench to chip in nine big points to the winning effort.
The Warriors stayed close most of the way behind the play of Marcus with 15 points, while Hannigan added 14, including three 3-pointers, and Cusack had 13 points. But in a game of runs, Wakefield just had one less run than the Rockets did.
“We needed to score consistently to stay with them, and we didn’t do that in the third quarter,” said Wakefield coach Brad Simpson. “Reading made some shots and got momentum, and played at a better tempo and rate than we did. We also turned the ball over and failed to get many defensive rebounds.”
Wakefield came out tight and missed five shots at the rim in the first five minutes. The Rockets took advantage when Marchant hit two shots, while Nortelus added a lay-in, to give Reading an early 6-2 lead.
But then the Warriors woke up offensively when Billy O’Keefe, Marcus, and Hannigan all had baskets to help Wakefield close the first quarter with a 7-3 run, and tie the game 9-9 by the end of the first quarter.
After Wakefield took a 13-11 lead early in the second quarter, the Rockets rallied when Bekkenhuis, Nortelus, and Conroy all hit shots in low, to key a big 8-0 run to give Reading a 19-13 lead.
But the Warriors came back when Marcus hit two shots in close, to spark a 7-2 run that cut Wakefield’s deficit to 23-22 by halftime.
It still looked like anyone’s game beginning the third quarter but it was the Rockets that took control with a 22-point quarter.
Sannella hit a pair of 3-pointers while Nortelus also connected on one. Bekkenhuis made his presence felt in this quarter with five points.
Reading kept a seven-point lead for most of the quarter. Then after baskets by Hannigan and Cusack helped Wakefield close the gap to 36-33, the Rockets responded with hoops by Conroy, Sannella, and Marchant, to close the third quarter on a 9-2 run, and extend its lead to 10 points at 45-35 by the end of the third quarter.
The Warriors floundered for the first three minutes until making it interesting down the stretch.
“We made our run to come back and take the lead, but then we couldn’t close it and knock them out,” said Simpson. “When (Reading) took the lead there was not enough time left for us to come back again; we ran out of time. It was a game of runs, but they just made one more run than we did.”
Reading only scored two field goals in the final eight minutes but seven free throws proved to be enough to finish off Wakefield.
“Matt (Sannella) and Taylor (Marchant) made some big shots and opened up the floor, and I trust them,” said Morrissey of his two guards who played the entire game. “In the first half we made some inside shots, and in the second half we made some threes. We didn’t panic when they made their run. We won a tournament game, and now get to play again.”