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 ...
2013-14 hoops season begins with tipoff tourneys
Farrell Julius McCoy Tipoff Tourney
ä Kennedy Catholic 48, Imani Christian Academy 40 — The Golden Eagles set up an all local rematch with host Farrell by pulling away in the fourth quarter in a tight battle.
For KC, Gerald Zachar and Sam Crow each scored 13 points to pace the victory, Brown had 14 and Southerner 12 for Imani.
Brookfield boys win season-opener against Py Valley
It was a typical season-opener: Too many turnovers, some questionable shot selection, and careless personal fouls. But for Brookfield High boys’ bench boss Bill Kovach, “ ... always happy with a win.”
The Warriors were 7-for-10 from the free-throw line during the 4th frame, and held off Pymatuning Valley, 59-48, Tuesday night.
Hornets advance to semis with win over Central
DuBOIS, PA. — Some people could say the “third time is a charm.” For the Hickory High Hornets it was much more than that. In fact, it was glorious.
After losing in the first round of the PIAA Class AA playoffs the last two years, the Hornets finally nailed down a victory with a 37-27 triumph over the Central Dragons from Martinsburg.
Lakeview falls to Clarion Area in PIAA quarterfinals
SLIPPERY ROCK — In the scholastic athletic arena, “mercy rule” — while not politically correct in hyper-sensitive 2013 society — is a relatively accepted term.
Clarion High’s football had mercy-ruled all 13 prior opponents this season. And the Bobcats seemed bent on continuing their commanding conquests during Saturday’s PIAA Class A quarterfinal-round meeting with Lakeview.
Hickory focused on winning PIAA opener
The calendar reminds us that Thanksgiving arrives a little later than usual this year. But as holiday traditions go, this one has been pretty productive for Hickory High head football coach Bill Brest.
“My wife always has me put up our Christmas tree on the Friday after Thanksgiving ... and the next day, we’ve won. So I’ll be more than happy to help my wife put up the tree this Friday,” Brest related.
During the past 2 years Hickory has won District 10 titles on Thanksgiving weekend. But this year the Hornets harvested their 3rd consecutive crown last week, jettisoning Girard (21-10). Now Hickory (11-1) has a 1 p.m. date in DuBois Saturday against surprising Central-Martinsburg (11-2) in the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals.
Smart move by PIAA to schedule games early this weekend
Congratulations to the PIAA for making a good move that helps teams and fans of high school sports.
Wow, I haven’t been able to say that often enough!
But many of the high school football games this coming weekend will be played in the afternoon which is a real plus for traveling on possibly snow-blown highways at this time of the year.
Hornets 3-peat as D-10 champs with win vs. Girard
EDINBORO — When legendary coach Vince Lombardi said “the only good thing that comes from losing is the desire never to lose again,” he could very well have been referencing the future for Coach Bill Brest and his Hickory Hornets.
Since Hickory lost to Sharon, 14-6, in the 2010 District 10 finals in Brest’s first year at the helm of the team, the D-10 Class AA title game has belonged to Hickory. And Saturday afternoon at Edinboro University’s Sox Harrison Stadium, it was no different as the Hornets topped Girard, 21-10 for a third straight crown.
Sailors beat Devils to capture 1st District 10 title
NEW WILMINGTON — Lakeview may have a long way to go to equal Sharpsville’s success in the sport of football, but the Sailors jump-started the process Friday night.
With Blake Reddick roaring into the record book, the Sailors shut out Sharpsville, 27-0, in the District 10 Class A championship game at Greyhounds Stadium.
Hornets seek 3-peat Saturday vs. Girard
Bill Brest ... buffer?
Hickory High’s head football coach has broad shoulders and that’s necessary, because he’s taking on all distractions as his Hornets prepare for Saturday’s District 10 Class AA championship game.
Hickory (10-1) will attempt to hoist the D-10 trophy for a 3rd consecutive season when the Hornets journey to Girard’s backyard — Edinboro University’s Sox Harrison Stadium — to meet the Yellow Jackets at 1 p.m.
Hickory rolls past Northwestern in D-10 semifinals
SLIPPERY ROCK — They say that “Familiarity breeds contempt.” You can bet the Northwestern Wildcats are feeling a bit of the latter for the Hickory Hornets!
For a third straight season Hickory eliminated the northerners from the District 10 Class AA playoffs, this time by a 52-14 score in the semifinals Saturday night at Slippery Rock University’s Thompson-Mihalik Stadium.
Greenville falls to Girard in D-10 semifinals
ERIE — District 10 was destined for a Class AA championship game between reigning 2-time titlist Hickory and Greenville.
But no one informed the Girard High football team of the plans.
“ … This is pretty cool … I’m pretty fired up about it,” admitted 4th-year Yellow Jackets’ head coach Jim Funk after Girard jolted Greenville, 16-14.
SPORTVIEW: Season fate could be decided today for Browns, Steelers
IT MAKES NO sense to say that one game determines the rest of the season. That’s why I’ll simply say: Today’s one game determines the rest of the season.
Since when did my predictions make sense anyhow?
The Cleveland Browns’ visit to Cincinnati today will go a long way to deciding if the Browns have a shot at making the playoffs — and even winning the AFC North title — or if they should start planning for the NFL draft.
GCC tops Thiel in OT to win Mercer County Cup
The Grove City and Thiel College football teams closed out their seasons on Saturday with a thrilling game at Alumni Stadium in Green-ville as Grove City posted a 50-44 overtime win in the 30th annual Mercer County Cup Game.
Quarterback Brian Pell scored on a 13-yard run for the Wolverines (3-5, 5-5) to give GCC the win in OT.
Devils beat WM; will play for 3rd straight D-10 title
Two-time defending District 10 Class A champion Sharpsville is returning to the D-10 title game for a third straight year and Coach Paul Piccirilli has a simple explanation for the team’s success:
“We believe. Kids in Sharpsville believe.”
A lot of people are believing as well after watching the Blue Devils dismantle West Middlesex, 40-3, Friday night at Hickory High Hornets Stadium.
Spence, Sailors roll past Mercer, 52-21
NEW WILMINGTON — Pat McClearn lived Lakeview High football program’s previous gridiron glory days. Unfortunately for him on Friday night he was on the business end of the current Sailors’ resurgence.
McClearn and his Mercer High Mustangs were eliminated by Lakeview from the District 10 Class A semifinals, 52-21.
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