Feb. 25—Months ago we weren't certain if there would be a basketball season; a dark COVID cloud loomed.
We knew this much: If a Berks championship game was played Reading High and Wilson would be part of it.
Despite a season filled with uncertainty, with changes on the fly, with stretches of inactivity, the Red Knights and Bulldogs have made it to the big stage Friday at 8 in the Berks Conference championship game.
The arena is different — it'll be Berks Catholic, the Red Knights' playoff home du jour.
Because of spectator limits at Santander Arena, the BCIAA has awarded home court to the higher-seeded team throughout the playoffs. Top-seeded Reading High can't play at the Geigle because its school board isn't allowing spectators and the BCIAA is requiring that both home and visiting parents be allowed access.
It's the first time since 2003 the championship game won't be played at Santander Arena (formerly the Sovereign Center).
Surprisingly, it's just the fifth championship game meeting between Reading and Wilson, and the first since 2007.
This championship is unique for other reasons.
It's the first time in 34 years the finalists enter with losses only to the other. (In 1987 unbeaten Wilson played Holy Name, the Blue Jays' only two losses having come against the Bulldogs.)
The Bulldogs (17-1) won their first 14 games before a two-point loss to Reading Feb. 16 at the Geigle.
The Red Knights (20-1) have won 12 straight since their only loss, 75-61 to Wilson Jan. 29 in West Lawn.
The Red Knights look back at their loss as a learning lesson; they were too passive defensively and were afraid to put Stevie Mitchell on the line. They saw what the Marquette recruit did to Muhlenberg earlier in the season when he sank 18 free throws. And they remembered what he did to them a year earlier, when he knocked down 12-of-15 at the line in a two-point loss in the District 3 Class 6A title game.
The Red Knights aren't a team that sits back; they attack. That's their M.O.
The Bulldogs were a couple of minutes from a perfect season, but a short lapse cost them. They were up 11 early in the third quarter at the Geigle when things fell apart.
Wilson coach Matt Coldren said he think his guys took their foot off the pedal, and it cost them. Reading surged ahead with a 12-point run and held on for a 62-60 win.
"We've played six great quarters against them, the four (at home) and the first two at the Geigle," said Coldren. "We were very efficient offensively and we defended. And then we forced shots and took terrible shots (in that bad stretch)."
That's the Bulldogs' only loss in their last 40 games. Otherwise they have been rock steady, winning consistently with defense, 3-point shooting, depth and, of course, with Mitchell, their All-State guard and one of Berks' all-time greats.
Despite replacing three starters from a 28-1 team, Wilson has made a seamless transition, in large part because of Mitchell's ability to control the game and bring his teammates together.
The Red Knights share a similar tight bond, though their journey has been anything but smooth. Their lineup has changed constantly. They've been without point guard Joey Chapman the past four games and were without 6-6 senior center Moro Osumanu, their leading scorer and rebounder, in the Berks semifinals.
Red Knights coach Rick Perez was making plans Thursday not knowing if either player will be on the floor Friday.
"We're working on it," he said without sharing details of why either might not be available. "We're encouraged by the guys who are present.
"It's a brotherhood. Reading High basketball: All in, 365. That five means any five can get it done."
These teams know each other so well they don't need a lot of advance preparation; this will be their seventh meeting in 14 months. They'll make tweaks, perhaps change a defensive assignment or two, but otherwise will offer few surprises.
Wilson is looking for back-to-back Berks championships for the first time since 1993-94; Reading is seeking its fifth title in seven seasons, and a record 24th.
"There's motivation all the way around," Mitchell said. "They want to win it, we want to win it; it's bragging rights.
"We're all gonna know each other for the rest of our lives, so (that's) all the motivation we need."