The Reading High boys' basketball team won its first state championship Saturday night, holding off Pine-Richland, 64-60, at Giant Center in Hershey March 25, 2017. Jim Seip, GameTimePA.com
HERSHEY - Lonnie Walker made his final game in Pennsylvania high school basketball one to remember.
Playing his last game for Reading High, the McDonald's All-American brought Red Knights their first state championship.
Reading High knocked off Pine-Richland, 64-60, in the PIAA Class 6A boys' basketball championship game Saturday night at Giant Center in front of a record crowd of 9,531.
The University of Miami recruit scored a game-high 22 points, throwing down a breakaway dunk in the fourth quarter while Reading held off Pine-Richland's final comeback attempt.
After receiving his gold medal, Walker bent at the waist and tears ran down his face.
"I felt the little coldness of this gold medal," Walker said. "I got chills going through my whole body."
The game served as a crowning achievement for a storied program that has produced NBA player Donyell Marshall and former New York Knicks coach Stu Jackson. The school also served as the first head coaching stop for Pete Carril, who later jumped to Princeton University where he created the Princeton offense that has since spread throughout the game. Yet, Reading had never won a state championship before this season.
Even after winning 20 District 3 titles, the Knights somehow never brought home gold medals. Knocked off by Harrisburg in the District 3 tournament this season, the Red Knights finally snapped the program's long drought. Seemingly fueled by the horde of fans that followed them through the state tournament, they pieced together a perfect 5-0 run through the PIAA tournament's largest classification.
Reading's last appearance in the title game came with Jackson in 1973, when it lost to General Braddock, 63-62, in heartbreaking fashion. Braddock won the game when Daryl Washington sank a free throw with no time left on the clock.
Head coach Rick Perez, who took over the program when South Western High grad Tim Redding shocked the school by stepping down after three successful seasons in 2011, remains a hyper and a positive force courtside in his sixth season leading the program. He changed outfits during the game, shouting orders and hugging players after it all ended.
Reading's arrival at Hershey marked the first time a District 3 team has reached the big-school state championship game since William Penn powered its way to the 2009 final. The region has struggled to compete in the largest classification for the last decade, with Philadelphia (District 12), suburban Philadelphia (District 1) and WPIAL (District 7) teams dominating the state title picture in the last 10 years.
Harrisburg, with its state titles in 2002 and 1998, had been the only District 3 big-school boys' program to bring home gold medals from the PIAA tournament during the last 20 years.
But Reading was pegged as the team to beat in the preseason. They had Walker, who turned down scholarship offers from the best program's in the country to go to the University of Miami. When the Knights visited York for William Penn's tip-off tournament at the start of the season, fans knew all about the 6-foot-5 guard. And when Reading knocked off Central York in the District 3 tournament, it was Walker who again made the highlight reel with his dunk and block.
Saturday night, he just took care of the last of the unfinished business in Reading.
Note: YAIAA officiating crew John C. Eyster, Philip Miller and Brian Proctor worked the PIAA Class 5A boys' championship game Friday night.