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See the top five plays from the Cedars' 66-59 loss to the Red Knights in the District 3 Class 6A Third Place Game. Matt Catrillo/GameTimePA.com

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HERSHEY – No matter how often you play Reading High, for any team game planning against the Red Knights, you know there is one player you must slow down to have a chance.

That is the one and only Lonnie Walker IV.

Knowing how you have to stop one of the Berks League’s top scorers is one thing – executing it however, is easier said than done.

Though the Lebanon boys basketball team was able to execute its defensive game plan for the most part, it still wasn’t enough after a more than underwhelming first quarter ultimately doomed the Cedars in a 66-59 loss to Reading in the District 3 Class 6A Third Place Game Thursday at Milton Hershey School.

Despite the loss, Cedars coach Tim Speraw was happy his team was able to hang with a team like the Red Knights.

“It was tough,” Speraw said. “We were hoping to not play them in this game. We were thinking we’d play them later. But I’m happy we competed. If we don’t play so bad for the first five minutes, maybe the game’s a little bit different.”

That opening quarter made it look as though the Red Knights would run away with it, leading 26-10 after the first quarter, and forcing seven Cedars turnovers.

But Lebanon was able to keep itself afloat after outscoring Reading 18-12 in the second, including starting the quarter on a key 6-1 run. The Cedars still committed six turnovers, however.

The Cedars continued to stay with the Red Knights in the second half, closing the gap to as low as six at 41-35 with 5:11 left in the third, after a Dante Vargas bucket.

But Reading finally began to shut the door with the help an old fashioned three-point play from Walker, as part of a key 6-2 late fourth quarter run, making it 63-52 with 3:20 remaining.

After finishing fourth, the Cedars will face the District 1 third place winner in the PIAA Tournament first round March 11.

As the third place team, Reading will take on the District 1 fifth place winner in Saturday’s PIAA Tourney first round, also on March 11.

Time and place for both games still are TBA.

Walker led Reading with 18 points, including four 3’s.

Overall, Lebanon did a pretty nice job keeping Walker in check, holding him to just eight points at the half, before allowing 10 in the second half.

“It was more making him shoot over us, but he hit deep 3’s,” Speraw said. “We didn’t let him constantly get to the rim. He wasn’t drawing fouls. I thought we did alright on him. I thought we gave him a couple open looks he shouldn’t have had, but you’re going to do that. They’re an athletic team, and we had to pick our poison.”

And obviously, Speraw talked about how Walker has all the tools.

“He’s complete,” Speraw said. “He can rebound, he’s a very good passer, and he’s just a special player. We just wanted to keep him in check and make other people beat us. Other guys knocked down 3’s, so that helped them.”

Cedars guard Luis Aquino-Rios says defending a player like Walker obviously took a lot of focus.

“It gave us a big challenge,” Aquino-Rios said, who led all scorers with 22 points. “It’s crazy but it had to be done. He’s a great player and it certainly helped me out with my defense.”

As Lebanon enjoys a few days off before the start of states, Speraw says while there are some positive things to take away from this game, his team still has to take advantage of some time off to refocus.

“I think we can take a little confidence from it,” Speraw said. “We don’t believe in moral victories. We lost the game, bottom line. When we step on the court, we want to win, and it didn’t happen. We’ll take a peak from it and learn from the bad and see who we play in states.”

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