MERCER COUNTY —
In some regards, it seems as though it took place a long time ago ...
When West Middlesex High boys basketball team was beaten by Beaver Falls, 50-41, at New Castle’s Tipoff Tourney Dec. 7, 2012 the PIAA football championships were a week away.
Conversely, it seems difficult to fathom a full calendar year has passed since West Middlesex was within seconds of advancing to the commonwealth’s Class A title tilt before suffering a last-second setback to Lincoln Park Charter, 47-45.
But the Big Reds (25-3) gained a reprieve today at 7 p.m. at Sharon High, meeting Beaver Falls (26-3) for the Class AA western regional crown.
“I’ve been coaching fourteen years and this is my fifth western final. ... This is a fun game. I don’t know why else you’d do this if not for these last two games,” reasoned Tigers’ taskmaster Doug Biega.
West Middlesex has won 21 consecutive contests en route to Region 2-AA and District 10 championships, establishing a school single-season standard for wins. The Big Reds boast Matt Dogan, Mercer County’s career scoring leader (2,228) as the linchpin of its playoff-experienced rotation.
Beaver Falls is ... Beaver Falls — one of the WPIAL’s most proud programs, as any old-school Section 3 aficionado will recall.
Not unlike West Middlesex, however, the 2011-12 Tigers were tormented by their own season-ending tumult — a 56-54 overtime loss to Imhotep Charter in the Keystone State AA title tilt.
So from an emotional standpoint, which team has the edge?
“We always look at that Lincoln Park game — we’d be kidding ourselves if we didn’t,” admitted 14th-year Middlesex mentor Chad Mild. “That was heartbreaking for our kids, especially the seniors.
“And,” Mild emphasized, “we don’t want that feeling ever again. That’s been our momentum every day we prepare ... the long hours ...
“All I’ve got to do is mention ‘Lincoln Park,’ and that gets (the Big Reds’) attention. So we’re going into (tonight’s) game knowing that we don’t want to experience that feeling again,” Mild added.
About 3è months ago starters Trey Staunch, Jeremy Jancso and Roman Klaric were only a week removed from playing in the D-10 Class A football championship game. Not a veiled alibi, the Big Reds recorded sub-par 20-for-51 shooting against Beaver Falls. Even the dominant Dogan did not reach double digits for the only time this season, shooting 3 for 19.
“(Drew) Cook’s a basketball-only guy, and Dogan’s a basketball-only guy ... other than that I think you had a lot of football/athlete-type guys trying to feel their way around,” Biega offered.
Mild mused, “I think we’re shooting the ball better. Guys are stepping up, like Christian Porterfield, Jerrod Palmer, and Ryan Dogan coming off the bench. Our shooting’s better now. And I think, obviously, guys know their roles better after twenty-eight games They all have a defined role.”
But Beaver Falls is better, too, led by athletic 6-foot-3 Elijah Cottrill, who collected a game-high 15 points — 9 during the 4th frame, in spite of a high-ankle sprain — in that earlier meeting.
“I think our whole team’s playing better,” Biega echoed. We graduated six or seven of our top eight from a defending WPIAL championship team in 2012, so not only were some kids playing into shape, but they were learning — as was I — the strengths and weaknesses of this version of our team.
“But, absolutely,” Biega said, “everybody’s playing better, and I’m sure Chad would say the same.”
“I thought that night we had some guys just coming out of football, but we still had our chances to take control, but didn’t,” Mild admitted. “I think it was 29-29 (entering the 4th frame), but we failed to score on three possessions.”
Cottrill’s cast of companions complements him as does Dogan’s. Cook canned a game-high 19 points and Danny Stratton scored 15 (Cottrill 14) in the Tigers’ triumph over Lakeview (56-44) in the regional semifinals.
“Cook and Cottrill are doing that they’re supposed to do. They’re a very good backcourt,” Biega praised.
“I think they’re distributing the ball better and attacking the hoop better from that first time,” Mild said in assessing the Tigers. “It’s a dribble-drive offense they’re using, and they’ll kick the ball out for three’s. And they have five scorers on the floor at one time.
“The first time we played them they didn’t pressure us a whole lot ’cause they got in foul trouble, so they settled into a 2-3 zone,” Mild recalled. “But from that night on they’ve been full-court, man-to-man, pressuring everybody. They call it their ‘Jet’ press. But we’re used to playing against that style, and we’re not shying away form it. We saw that with Youngstown East and Farrell, so we’re well prepared for that pressure they’ll bring.”
Middlesex made only 11 miscues in that earlier meeting, but 4 during the 4th quarter when the Big Reds also missed 9 of 15 floor shots. Dogan drove for a score with 2:06 remaining in the 3rd period, knotting the count at 27. But Dogan did not score again that night.
For his part Mild admitted, “We’re excited. They’re ranked number one in the state (Harrisburg Patriot-News), so I think this’ll be the first time all year that we’re coming in as the underdog.”
Beaver Falls has become a force in Class AA with Biega as bench boss. The Tigers were toppled by Sto-Rox in 2004, then won three consecutive WPIAL crowns. Then this more recent run.
“I absolutely think (past postseason) experience could be an advantage,” Biega began. “We’ve been in this situation a lot. But this West Middlesex team is a unique team. I don’t know about them from when they were younger, but it seems like they’ve always been succesful, they’ve been groomed to make the run they made last year and this year.
“So I’m sure they’re seen by their community as a group that can get after something special,” Biega said.
The outcome, Mild said, will come down to “ ... defintely a part of execution. We know who we are and what we want to do, and we know what they want to do. So it comes down to who executes better, who does what they do best on that night.”
“That’s what all big games come down to — execution,” Biega agreed. “The team that executes better, defends better. But,” Biega cautioned, “if we get ‘mauled’ on the glass, if (the Big Reds) beat us up on the glass it’ll be an uphill battle for us.
“I’m sure they’ll be trying to limit their turnovers against our pressure, but they had an advantage in size and rebounding.
“The key to the game,” Biega offered, “is whomeve makes better mental plays down the stretch and limits their turnovers.”
Given the circumstances, personnel and chemistry, it’s not lost on Mild — tonight may be a once-in-a-lifetime.
“ ... We couldn’t ask for a better opportunity. We’ve worked hard to position ourselves to get to the state championship game, and we’re goin’ in with the expectation of winning this game,” Mild said adding,
“I know we believe in our hearts we’re as good as them and we can beat them — that’s what we’re taking away from having beaten them once (60-58, in the ’11-12 New Castle Tipoff tourney).
“I think the experience advantage is negligible,” Biega observed. “I think they see themselves, and their town sees them, as a team of destiny.
“The bottom line is they’re very good,” Biega praised. “Being battle-tested may be a checkmark in our column, but West Middlesex is a very good team.”
Not surprisingly on a Sunday, Mild was making his way to study film. But a day removed from his club’s 60-46 conquest of Conemaugh Twp., not boastfully, but matter-of-factly, Mild admitted,
“ ... Our confidence is through the roof right now.”
Big Reds seek state berth
MERCER COUNTY —
In some regards, it seems as though it took place a long time ago ...
SPORTVIEW: Johnny Football claims he has learned from his 'rookie mistakes'
HERE ARE some thoughts from a guy who might have made a few “rookie mistakes” in his life, ala Johnny Manziel.
Johnny Football admitted this past week that he made some rookie mistakes. Really?
Usually rookie mistakes for most NFL newbies are throwing into coverage or fumbling the football because you don’t tuck it tightly to your side.
NFL NOTEBOOK: Ex-Sharon star Austin hopes to spark Lions' defense
THE TALENTED — albeit underachieving — Detroit Lions commence camp July 27 in Allen Park, Mich. as the National Football League prepares for the 2014 season.
Racing to fight cancer
Former Hickory High athlete Amanda Budzowski is on the run — the run to raise money to fight cancer.
Budzowski is part of Team in Training, an organization that has raised more than $1.4 billion for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society since forming in 1988. Her division is known as IRONTEAM and she is currently training for the 140.6-mile Ironman triathlon in Mont Tremblant, Canada, in August.
SPORTVIEW: Pirates, Indians need fast start after All-Star break
SO FAR, so good. I’m referring to the start of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cleveland Indians after the All-Star break on Friday night.
Both teams rallied to win. The Buccos beat the Colorado Joints — err, I mean Rockies — by coming from behind in the 8th inning. Since they legalized marijuana sales in that state, it gave new meaning to John Denver’s song “Rocky Mountain High.”
Rutters earn spot in national motocross event
The brother-sister racing duo of Elijah and Dannah Rutter of Mercer are set to travel to Hurricane Mills, Tenn., to compete soon in the prestigious 33rd annual Rocky Mountain ATV/MC AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships presented by AMSOIL at Loretta Lynn Ranch.
Elijah, 18, and Dannah, 16, earned a ticket to the event with their performances at qualifiers and then regionals and are among the top 5 percent of riders in the U.S. Overall, 20,000 hopefuls from across the U.S. competed and there are only 1,446 qualifying spots at nationals.
Notebook: Sharon football greats meet, reunite at inaugural golf scramble
Mid-July, with the temperature 80-plus degrees at Avalon at Buhl Country Club; however, it felt like a fall, football Friday.
The inaugural Sharon Football Boosters 4-man golf scramble took place recently, and served as a Who’s Who in the Tigers’ triumphant tradition.
SPORTVIEW: All is right with the world - LeBron has come home!
HAPPY DAYS are here again. The prodigal child has returned!
The announcement that “King James” is returning to Cleveland has created a level of euphoria not seen since the Browns won the city’s last major sport championship a couple of years ago.
What’s that? Oh, yeah — make that 50 years ago (1964).
Full text of LeBron's essay in SI
LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday in an essay that he wrote for Sports Illustrated. The following is the full text of that essay.
Snyder, Gordon, Popatak named to All-State team
Grove City High’s David Gordon, Sharpsville’s Greg Popatak and Lakeview’s Logan Snyder recently were named to the Pennsylvania High School Baseball Coaches Association all-state team.
Synder was selected 1st-Team in Class A as a designated-hitter, while Gordon was honorably-mentioned in Class AAA and Popatak similarly was honored in AA. Gordon gained his laurels as a pitcher; Popatak as a 3rd baseman.
Oprah lands first interview with Jerry Sandusky's adopted son, Matthew
Matthew Sandusky, the adopted son of former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, is breaking his silence for the first time since his father's 2012 conviction on 45 counts of child sexual abuse, sitting down with Oprah to tell his story.
Little League Tournaments
Sharon won the District 2 Major Division (12-year-olds) Championship, while Greenville 9-10 and West Middlesex 11 teams notched tournament victories in recent action.
Hermitage Brennan Chiropractic won the Mercer County 14-under championship recently.
Following are game reports:
The First Tee of Sharon celebrates 15th anniversary
Professional golf star John Cook has received many honors and awards in his illustrious career, but probably none mean as much as those similar to the one he received Monday afternoon at The First Tee of Sharon.
During a special ceremony to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the local program, a permanent plaque was unveiled in his honor describing the contributions he has made to junior golf.
SPORTVIEW: John Cook here Monday for First Tee; other celebs on July 11
THE RETURN of Tiger Woods to a PGA event sparked a lot of interest this past week. The return of John Cook to Buhl Farm Golf Course Monday will do the same locally.
Cook, a standout on the Champions Tour and outstanding TV golf analyst, will conduct a clinic at 11 a.m. Monday at the course to help celebrate the 15th anniversary of The First Tee of Sharon program.
It is open to the public at no charge.
Hickory honors Tri-Athletes
Hickory High honored its 2013-14 tri-athletes in a recent ceremony, the latest installment in a program that began in 2003-04.
Fifty student-athletes (grades 9-12) were cited for having competed in at least one sport in the fall, winter and spring while maintaining a minimum B (85 percent) grade-point-average during the first three 9-week grading periods of the academic year.
SPORTVIEW: Ex-Greenville man to enter Bedford County Hall
HUGHEY TATE was the greatest baseball player that ever lived — hitting 10,000 home runs and never making an out in 50 years on the diamond.
OK, that’s not true of course. But that’s the way Hughey would have told it before bursting into laughter.
Tate, a Greenville man who was as good at spinning a yarn as well as he was in hitting home runs, will be inducted posthumously into the Bedford County (Pa.) Hall of Fame Saturday. Some of his relatives from this area will attend the ceremonies.
- More Sports Headlines
- SPORTVIEW: Johnny Football claims he has learned from his 'rookie mistakes'