THE WARRIORS celebrate Mike Wilkinson’s (23) buzzer-beating putback, which gave them a 45-44 road win over Reading on Tuesday night. (Brian Cusack Photo)
By DAN PAWLOWSKI
READING — The dagger surely belonged to Reading’s Jesse Doherty.
With his team trailing visiting Wakefield by one on Tuesday night, Doherty got the ball at the top of the key after Reading’s initial set was defended well and in a race against the shot clock, dribbled to his left and took a deep, step-back, contested two. Wakefield’s Mike Wilkinson couldn’t have played any better defense but Doherty’s shot swished through with 11 seconds on the clock and the home team leading 44-43.
The Warriors, who at one point had led by 12 in the second half, put the ball in the hands of Ethan Margolis (19 pts, 7 reb, 5 ast, 2 stl) their best player on this night. Margolis had carried the Warriors in the fourth, scoring or assisting on all 11 of their final quarter points. This time, as the seconds ticked off, Margolis couldn’t get a clean look, his jumper falling short.
Call it an assist if you want.
Wilkinson broke for the hoop from the left corner and saw the result of his classmates shot before anyone else realized it was released. The senior calmly collected the miss and put it back up on the other side of the rim, his layup banking in just as the buzzer sounded, setting off an epic celebration from the Warrior bench and traveling fan base. The dagger belonged to Mike.
Wilkinson (14 pts, 3 reb) and the Warriors never reached their peak offensively against a physical and long Rocket squad, but Wakefield proved once again that this year’s team was capable of winning any style of game.
Reading chose to slow it down all night, a wise choice against a Wakefield team who can run most opponents off the court.
The Warriors finally got to their up-tempo style in the 3rd quarter, a Wilkinson strip of Doherty and an alert tap ahead to Margolis for an easy two forcing a Rocket timeout with the Warriors up 27-15 and 4:51 left in the frame.
The Rockets responded well, mounting an 18-5 run on their way to a 33-32 lead early in the 4th.
Wakefield’s mini scoring drought was ended when Margolis found Jackson McDermott (7 pts, 5 reb, 4 blocks) for a corner 3 to reclaim the lead.
Just like that, an intense, defensive struggle opened up as both teams traded baskets. Margolis’ mid-range magic gave Wakefield a 41-38 lead but back-to-back Rocket buckets made it 42-41 before Margolis went back to work, this time a crossover leading to an open elbow jumper which he easily buried to make it 43-42 and force a Reading timeout with 31 seconds left, setting the table for Doherty and Wilkinson.
The game was a grind for most of the first half, with Wakefield leading 9-7 after one and 17-13 at the half.
Margolis got into rhythm early, hitting two mid-rangers and De’Ari Burton found Declan O’Callahan for a corner 3 to tie the game at 7-7.
Wakefield’s defense was impressive in the 2nd quarter especially as they pressured ball handlers and held their ground in the post. McDermott was the most active, collecting two of his four blocks in the 2nd and always walling up Rocket drivers to make shots difficult.
He followed that defense up with a good take to the hoop for a 13-7 advantage and Margolis had the play of the half when he took a rebound coast to coast, euro-stepping to avoid a charge and finishing with his left for a 15-7 lead. McDermott’s second block later sent Burton out in transition, the junior guard going after two defenders before a tough, contested layup made it 17-11.
Wakefield kept grooving in the 3rd, a Wilkinson free-throw line jumper and a Margolis and-one pushing the lead to 22-15. The Warriors went on a 10-2 run to start the 3rd with 5 points from Margolis and Wilkinson each before the Rockets called for time and reset to get back into it.
The end result was an impressive 45-44 win for Wakefield against one of the Middlesex League’s toughest teams. The Rockets (6-4) entered the game coming off back-to-back wins over Arlington and Watertown.
Wakefield (10-1) officially punched their ticket to the big dance with their win over the Div. 1 Rockets. The Warriors were ranked 13th in the latest Div. 2 power rankings.
Wakefield travels to Watertown (6-5) tonight at 5:30 p.m. The Warriors are in 1st place in the Freedom Division while the Raiders are in 3rd.