By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
CLARION — Matt Dogan said he had attempted 953 free throws during his West Middlesex High basketball career entering Wednesday night’s PIAA Class AA quarterfinal-round meeting with Bishop McCort.
It must have seemed to the Crimson Crushers as though Dogan attempted 953 free throws during the 4th quarter alone.
“I guess I’ve been there a lot in my career, huh?” Dogan rhetorically asked after converting 20 of 23 attempts – 16 of 18 during the 4th frame – as he led the Big Reds to a 61-54 triumph at Clarion Univerity’s Waldo Tippin Gymnasium.
By virtue of its 20th consecutive victory, West Middlesex (24-3) will meet Conemaugh Twp. – a 65-46 winner over Northern Cambria – on Saturday at a site and time to be announced.
Despite a half-dozen 1st-half assists, Dogan disparaged his own play, as Christian Porterfield pumped in 11 points – tossing in a trio of treys – and Middlesex mutered a 31-26 margin at intermission.
Normally stout Trey Staunch, stricken with illness, incurred a pair of 1st-quarter personal fouls and was limited to 6 points. By the evening’s end Staunch – who had scored in double figures in every game this season – scored 7 points and 4 snared 4 bounds before being DQ’d on fouls with 2:28 remainng.
“We dug deep inside (Wednesday) night. We got a lot of guys not feeling well right now’
Trey Staunch has been down with the flu,” admitted Middlesex mentor Chad Mild. “But we’re not gonna make excuses. We were gonna dig down deep, and I thought my bench came through.”
However McCort mustered a 37-33 margin with 3 1⁄2 minutes remaining in the 3rd period on Billy Hipp’s pair of freebies and Jordan Spangler’s corner jumper. Though Dogan drained both ends of a 1-and-1 bonus free-throw situation with 21.8 seconds left in the quarter, the Crushers copped a 38-37 lead entering the 4th frame.
Middlesex made only 3 of 7 floor shots during the final frame, but Dogan decided it, singlehandedly outscoring McCort, 20-16. Dogan, despite z 5-vor-18 shooting performance, scored a game-high 30 points.
“He came over to us in the fourth quarter and told us, ‘Get the ball in my hands,’” Mild related. “We were struggling a little bit, and someimtes our best play is, ‘Go, Matt.’ (Wednesday) night it was ‘Go, Matt,’ and he got to the line for us.”
“They just won the free-throw battle, and we didn’t capitalize,” lamented 8th-year Crimson Crushers’ coach Bill Hollern. “You hold (Dogan) to five field goals – and he took a lot of shots. Our guys battled; it was just one step here, one step there. But he does some good stuff out there. He’s a true competitor, that’s for sure.
“We missed a bunch of free throws (7 for 14, including an 0-for-4 effort by leading scorer Nemo Trexler), and that sort’ve was where the game is won and lost, regardless of how many they made, because they’re just like baskets,” Hollern continued. “We didn’t view it that way (Middlesex’s humungous 24-for-32 margin; we were just more disappointed that our free-throw shooting wasn’t a little bit better (Wednesday) night.”
The 1st half served as kind of a role-reversal for the Big Reds.
Despite missing 7 of his 9 field-goal attempts, Dogan distributed a half-dozen assists, with Porterfield and Jerrod Palmer pumping in 3 and 2 treys, respectively, primarily from the deep corners.
Offensively, the Crimson Crushers (19-9) cashed in from the paint, as the athletic 6-foot-4 Trexler tallied 12 points by attacking the rim. Trexler tallied a team-high 20 points on a 10-for-21 shooting performance..
With Palmer pumping in a pair of treys, offsetting Trexler’s 6, and the Crushers committing a handful of miscues, Middlesex mustered a 15-12 margin after 8 minutes.
Porterfield produced 9 points, offsetting another 6 from Trexler. And when Dogan dished to Mike Ginther on the low block with 3.3 ticks to play, it moved Middlesex to a 31-26 margin at intermission.
“We never doubt ourselves, that’s the type of team we are, we’re a blue-collar team, and we’re gonna grind it out,” Dogan declared. “It feels great to get here! Nothing’s been given to us; we have to earn everything we get. So we weren’t expecting to get here; it was a goal and we wanted to earn our way here and I think we’ve done that. Now, we want to keep going further.
“I had been told that I was 711 for 953 for my career coming into this game, and that ranked top 10, all-time, nationally,” Dogan related. “I was really surprised by that, but I guess I’ve shot a few free throws.”
“We’re happy to be in the ‘Elite Eight,’ but we’re not satisfied,” Mild mused. “I thnk this is a reflection of our community – a tough community, a hard-working community. Our fans were behind us one hundred percent.
“We were struggling a little bit, and I told (his assistant coaches), ‘Look across (the gym) at ‘Big Red Nation.’ They were all standing up, and I told (the Big Reds), you’ve gotta dig down deep for those people.’ And I think we did.”
PIAA CLASS AA PLAYOFFS
W.MIDDLESEX 15 16 6 24 61
B. McCORT 12 14 12 16 54
WEST MIDDLESEX — Dogan 5-20-23-30, Palmer 3-1-1-9, Staunch 2-3-4-7, Jancso 1-0-2-2, Klaric 0-0-0-0, Ginther 1-0-0-2, C. Porterfield 4-0-2-11, R. Dogan 0-0-0-0, J. Porterfield 0-0-0-0. 3-pt. goals: Porterfield 3, Palmer 2. Totals: 16-24-32-61.
BISHOP McCORT — Trexler 10-0-4-20, Hipp 5-4-4-16, Barbin 1-0-0-2, Spangler 3-0-1-7, Neiderhiser 0-2-2-2, Rugg 1-0-0-3, DiFrancesco 0-0-0-0, Pastorek 1-1-3-4, Ingram 0-0-0-0, Helsel 0-0-0-0. 3-pt. goals: Hipp 2, Pastorek 1, Spanger 1, Rugg 1. Totals: 21-7-14-54.