WPIAL title escaped Moon’s grasp, but PIAA championship now within reach
By: Chris Harlan
Friday, March 22, 2019 | 1:35 AM
Moon faced a crossroads after the WPIAL finals, a moment when its basketball season could have gone many different directions.
The Tigers had just lost a 16-point second-half lead and the WPIAL Class 5A title, a devastating disappointment that saw them leave Petersen Events Center in tears.
Was that too much to overcome?
“The first couple of practices were difficult to be honest with you,” Moon coach Adam Kaufman said. “We wanted to get them back to what they were before that game but it takes a little bit of time.”
Now three weeks later, Moon could become only the fifth WPIAL boys basketball team in that past 20 years to win a state title without winning the district title. The others were South Fayette in 2010, Sto-Rox and Penn Hills in 2004 and Shady Side Academy in 2000.
Moon (27-2) faces District 12 champion Archbishop Wood (20-8) in the PIAA finals at 8 p.m., Friday at Giant Center in Hershey.
The road to redemption started with a 77-53 victory over District 3’s Northeastern on March 8.
“Once we got the first game under our belt, I felt a little more confident because I could see it in their eyes again,” Kaufman said. “Maybe we could make a run at this. And then it started building and building and the practices have gotten crisper and crisper.”
Moon defeated Archbishop Ryan, 44-36, in the second round, and used overtime to eliminate District 3 champion Lower Dauphin, 51-50, in the quarterfinals.
In the semifinals, Moon earned revenge against Mars with a dominant 73-55 victory.
“(A rematch with) Mars wasn’t the motivation,” Kaufman said. “It was about doing something with this group of guys that we felt we could do — and we’re almost there. We’ve got another game to play.”
Moon’s opponent, Archbishop Wood, won the PIAA Class 5A title in 2017 but missed the state playoffs last season. This year’s Vikings are led by three high-scoring sophomores.
The top scorer is 6-foot guard Rahsool Diggins, who averages 17.5 points per game. He scored 32 in the District 12 final as Wood defeated Mastery Charter North, 78-71. He also scored 32 in a December victory over Cardinal O’Hara.
Daeshon Shepherd averages 14.5 points and Jaylen Stinson 13.6. Shepherd is a 6-5 forward with offers from Temple and Denver. Stinson is a 5-11 guard.
Julius Phillips, a 6-6 senior who lists a Lock Haven offer, averages 13.4.
Among Archbishop Wood’s eight losses was Class 4A finalist Bonner-Prendergast, along with Class 6A powers Roman Catholic and La Salle College from the Philadelphia Catholic League. The Vikings defeated PIAA Class A champion Sankofa Freedom Academy, 80-76, in December.
Wood reached the state finals with a 63-53 victory over defending champion Abington Heights in overtime. Stinson had a team-high 17 points, Diggins had 15, Shepherd scored 13 and Phillips had 10.
Moon’s top player is junior Donovan Johnson, who averages 22.3 points and 9.4 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-6 forward — whose brother Cam plays for North Carolina — scored 28 points in the semifinals.
Senior guard Connor Ryan averages 13.2.
“We knew that it wasn’t over after that WPIAL loss,” Johnson said. “We knew the next practice we had to get back at it. There’s no complaining. There’s no pouting. We just had to keep working.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .