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March 1, 2013

Preview: KC, Lakeview, WM boys battle for titles; KC girls face Cochranton

---- — Chad Mild munched on a piece of pizza following his Big Reds’ opening-round rout of Iroquois. Four nights later, though, Mild was in no mood for post-game snacking after his team fought off Fairview in the semifinals.

Fending off fearless Fairview — which had drawn within 4 with 2:48 remaining — helped make Middlesex mentor Mild appreciate less-pressured moments.

Which makes tonight’s 8 p.m. District 10 Class AA championship game with Lakeview appetizing for area aficionados; not necessarily for coaches’ constitutions.

The title tilt twin bill at Slippery Rock University’s Morrow Field House commences at 6:30 p.m., with Kennedy Catholic competing with Cochranton for the Class A crown.

CLASS AA

West Middlesex (21-3) vs. Lakeview (21-3)


State-ranked West Middlesex, winner of 17 consecutive contests and the defending D-10 Class A titlist, has been on a mission since losing to Lincoln Park in last season’s PIAA Final Four.

“It’s just one more goal on the road to our ultimate goal to get to the state championship,” Mild related. “We wanted to go undefeated in our region (2-AA) and win that, and to get to the District 10 championship game, and here we are.

“Trust me,” Mild admitted, ”it can’t be any better, with Middlesex and Lakeview playing in the District 10 championship game.” 

Matchups, Mild mused, make championship game storylines. His Reds outlasted Lakeview twice (46-34 in Stoneboro; 62-47 in West Middlesex). As it has been doing for 2-plus seasons, Middlesex made the most of the free-throw line — 30-for-41 (73.1 percent, led by Matt Dogan, 12 for 16, and Trey Staunch, 11 of 13). The Sailors shot 15 for 19 (78.9).

“We’ve had two kids foul out (of a game) the last two seasons — Brandon (Rice) and Coty (Gander) in that second game,” reflected Sailors’ skipper Gary Burke. “They’re a very physical basketball team, so there are certain things we have to do better to be more successful in this game than the last two: ‘Fundamentals 101,’” Burke related. “Rebound the basketball, take care of the basketball, and knock down shots when they’re presented to you.

“You can take all the X’s and O’s and all the Jim’s and Joe’s out of it,” Burke said. “It comes down, pretty much, to the fundamental things. ...The team that does those the best will be holding the trophy (tonight).”

Playing the same opponent 3 times in the same season invokes various theories. Burke said his Sailors experienced a precedent about a decade ago, when current star Casey Greggs’ older brother Chad set the tone in a rubber match against Maplewood, taking a charge early on and setting the tone for the duration.

“ ... That was my first championship,” Burke recalled,

“We’re used to (the 3-game scenario), us and Kennedy in that third game (last year, 41-39 in OT),” Mild reflected. “It’s not easy beating somebody three times, and it wasn’t like we blew (the Sailors) out the first two times. So our kids will be prepared, I’m sure their kids’ll be prepared, and it’s just going to be the team that makes less mistakes.”

Burke said his 13-year tenure will not be validated by victory tonight.

“Down the road it might be. But as far as I’m concerned ... years ago if you’d asked me if I ever thought we’d be in this position, I’d have said no. The fact we’re here, that we’ve put ourselves in this position, is very satisfying to me.

“Win, lose or draw, I couldn’t ask for more out of the four seniors (Greggs, Gander, Dalton Boggs and Zach VanDusen) and the underclassmen. To get to where we are is a nice notch on the belt, but I think this is about kind’ve continuing what we do up here at Lakeview: Doing things the right way, playing to the best of our ability, living up to our potential.

“A win would be very special for all of us — not just me,” Burke emphasized. “Nobody expects this out of us year in and year out. But we’ve earned a lot of respect over the years for our program — and that’s (what) I’m most proud of. People in the county and the district are talking about Lakeview’s program — no one person in particular — and that’s what swells my heart with pride.”

After the foray with Fairview, Mild — basking in the glow of another West Middlesex win, or perhaps momentarily relieved for having survived another challenge — said tonight’s tilt will be tense, but also ... “I think it’s going to be fun,” Mild admitted. “These guys are looking forward to playing us. I know they’re going to be ready, and it’s going to come down to the last couple minutes of that game, man.

“Our kids are confident,” Mild admitted. “We have seniors, we’ve been in big games, we’ve been in big atmospheres all year long. We’ll be ready.”

CLASS A

Kennedy Catholic (16-6) vs. Cochranton (15-8)


There was a time Kennedy Catholic’s program was synonymous with the D-10 Class A championship. A dozen consecutive crowns made it seem like a rite of spring. But owing to the emergence of, first Rocky Grove, then West Middlesex, Kennedy has not captured the crown since ’09. Now with Rocky Grove’s 2-year reign having run its course, and with West Middlesex moving up to AA, the Golden Eagles are embarking on the title they once took for granted.

It almost strikes a chord from the lyrics of Cold Play’s 2008 recording, “Viva LaVida”:

 “ ... I used to rule the world ... I used to roll the dice, feel the fear in my enemy’s eyes, listened as the crowd would sing. Now the old king is dead, long live the king ... ”

“The other day I asked my players, ‘How many of you have won a District 10 championship — in anything?’” recently related 4th-year KC head coach Rick Mancino, “and no one raised their hand. So I told them, ‘Here’s your opportunty.’”

Almost a year ago to the day in the same venue, KC was on the cusp of copping the crown, but lost to West Middlesex at the buzzer.

“I told (the Golden Eagles), ‘Last year we were very close, and now you’re fortunate to have a second shot at it, because there’s never any guarantee you’ll get back. We have that second chance, it’s right here for the taking, but we’ll have to beat a very good team to get it,” Mancino said, continuing,

“People around here have gotta get it out of their minds ... there are some very good teams in Mercer County. But in general conversation, for some of them, if they don’t know the name of the school I have to remind them that there other other good teams out there. And in my opinion,” Mancino admitted, “with our team, when we play a ‘name’ school we feel comfortable, our kids come ready to play; but if it’s a team with a name they’re not necessarily familiar with, we have letdowns, even though that has nothing to do with how good that team might be.

“I respect every team we play, and I don’t look past anybody,” Mancino emphasized. “This is the District 10 final, and I don’t care who you’re playing, these teams are good and they’re here for a reason. ... if they’ve gotten to the finals, they’re doing something right.”

The teams met in the regular season, with KC capturing a 69-65 win, and Mancino admitted, “We were very fortunate. We made some plays and they missed some foul shots at the end of the game, and we were able to respond to that. But, it was definitely not an easy win at all. They’re a tough team.”

“We had problems containing their point guard (Logan Herzberger), and (Nick Dickson) ... was able to do whatever he wanted,” recalled Mancino. “Those kids are tough and they have some others who can shoot the ball when they’re open ... ”

Mancino’s legacy is as a starter on KC’s 1st of 6 state championship teams (’85-86). Ironically, that success has been counterintuitive to a point, as it spawned the entitlement mentality once permeating the program’s fan base. Though he’s guided the Golden Eagles to twice as many wins as losses during his 4-year tenure, Mancino related,

“It’d be great for the guys to get the District 10 championship. When you’ve never won something you might not know how good it feels, so I’d like for these guys to experience that. It’d be a program-builder.

“People get spoiled, but you never know when the next one’s gonna come,” he said. “The last four years, our (Region 1-A) has been very good ...

“As a coach, you want to win every game, obviously; you want to win championships — it’s a great feeling! But, moreso, I’d love it for our players,” Mancino admitted, adding, “ ... I would love to win it, but I’m hoping to win other games. ... We want to win in the worst way, and I’d feel great, as a coach. It would be a great accomplishment if we win the District 10 championship. Hopefully, we’ll give it everything we can, and the players will look forward to the opportunity of playing for a District 10 championship.

“I told them,” Mancino concluded, “‘a lot of kids who play high school basketball would love to be in your position. You never know when you’ll have that opportunity again, so you have to take advantage of it.’”

 

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