By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
For an opponent, watching West Middlesex win must be akin to dying a slow death.
While West Middlesex High boys basketball team will be making its 4th consecutive appearance in the District 10 championship game, the Big Reds entered Tuesday’s semifinal showdown with Mercyhurst Prep having converted 72 percent of their free throws. But the Lakers — like so many before them during the last 3-plus seasons — hadn’t learned their lesson.
The Big Reds benefitted from a 3-to-1 edge from the line, making Prep pay in the form of a 58-42 win at Sharon High.
Defending D-10 titlist West Middlesex (19-5) will meet Fairview — a 64-28 winner over Reynolds Tuesday night — on Friday at a site and time to be announced.
Including the 2012 single-A crown, the Big Reds will bid for a 3-peat. West Middlesex has not lost a District 10 playoff game since the 2011 Class A title tilt to Rocky Grove.
Led by Trey Staunch’s 11-for-12 marksmanhip and Ryan Dogan’s 6-for-6 contribution, Middlesex made 25 of 35 freebies, compared with Prep’s 11-for-13 output.
“I haven’t had a guy foul out all year,” Mercyhurst Prep Head Coach Sean Baer plaintively pleaded to an official late in the contest.
However guards Rocco Agnello and Matt Puda were whistled for 5 personals apiece, while Luke Holland and Chris Valimont finished with 4 fouls each.
Through its first 23 games this season West Middlesex manufactured 330 of 458 attempts from the line, led by the stout Staunch’s 78.8 percent shooting (179 for 227).
“We didn’t change our game plan. We tried to get (the Lakers) in foul trouble early, tried to establish Trey and Josh (Porterfield) to attack the hoop and put as much pressure (on Prep) as we could on the offensive end,” related Middlesex mentor Chad Mild, “and I thought out guys came up big (Tuesday) night.”
Led by Staunch, Josh Porterfield and Dogan, with 8, 7 and 6 points, respectively, Middlesex mustered a 27-25 margin at intermission. However the Reds roared to an 8-2 spree during the 2nd half’s first 3 minutes.
Remarkably, Middlesex made only 5 field goals in 11 second-half attempts, but converted 18 of 24 freebies. Dogan, in double-bonus situations, drained his 6 during the 4th frame.
There’s no secret to success for the Big Reds.
“We go in fifteen-minute intervals in practice,” Mild related. “In blocks, every fifteen minutes we put two more minutes for one-and-ones, and we do that throughout the whole two hours we’re there.
“We put our time in,” a smiling Mild mused.
Both Big Reds bigs, Staunch and Josh Porterfield, posted double-doubles. Staunch scored 15 and Porterfield produced 13, and they evenly divided 22 rebounds as the Big Reds rolled to a 37-25 edge on the boards. Also for Middlesex, Dogan drained a trio of treys and ended with 15 points, and Staunch and Ike Williams each dished out 4 assists. Middlesex made 15 of 35 floor shots (42.8 percent), and the Big Reds recorded only 10 turnovers.
For Mercyhurst Prep (17-7), Puda pumped in 11 points, while Agnello and Valimont evenly split another 16. The 5-foot-11 Agnello snared a team-high 7 caroms — equalling the combined output of the 6-9 Holland (3) and 6-4 Valimont (4). And while Mercyhurst committed only 8 miscues, the Lakers connected on only 14 of 50 field-goal attempts — 5 of 22 second-half tries.
Regarding Friday’s foray with Fairview for the district championship, Mild said, “It was a goal of our’s to get back there, and now it’s a goal to win it. It’s gonna be a great game. We’re gonna play a great Fairview team, they’re well coached, great players ...
“I think we’re confident,” Mild continued. “Not to take anything away from Fairview, but we’ve been there and I think we’ve got something they want, so I think it’s gonna be a great game and a great battle.”
DISTRICT 10 SEMIFINALS
MIDDLESEX 15 12 16 15 58
MERCYHURST 14 11 8 9 42
WEST MIDDLESEX — Christian Porterfield 3-2-2-8, Williams 3-1-4-7, Staunch 2-11-12-15, Dogan 3-6-6-15, Josh Porterfield 4-5-10-13, A. Long 0-0-1-0. 3-pt. goals: Dogan 3. Totals: 15-25-35-58.
MERCYHURST PREP — Agnello 2-4-4-8, Valimont 2-4-4-8, Holland 2-0-0-4, Haas 1-3-4-6, Puda 5-0-1-11, Klein 1-0-0-2, Evanoff 1-0-0-3, Winschel 0-0-0-0. 3-pt. goals: Puda 1, Haas 1, Evanoff 1. Totals: 14-11-13-42.