By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
With 28.2 ticks to play Tuesday night, one of Mercer County’s most memorable scholastic careers in its hallowed hardwood history came to a conclusion.
Unfortunately, that simultaneously signalled the season’s swan song for West Middlesex High boys’ basketball team and the county’s career scoring kingpin, Matt Dogan.
Balanced Beaver Falls bucketed 11 of its 22 second-half floor shots — including 4 treys — and all 11 free-throw attempts, and the Tigers took down Middlesex, 59-47, in the Class AA western regional title tilt at Sharon High.
“I’m not disappointed,” insisted 14th-year Middlesex mentor Chad Mild. “I’m proud of my guys. ... These last couple years ... that’s the thing that hurts the most. But all good things must come to an end. It’s about the journey ... ”
Beaver Falls bounced back from a 25-22 halftime deficit to return to play for the PIAA pedestal. The Tigers (27-3) will take on Scranton-Holy Cross — a 53-39 winner over Camp Hill-Trinity — Saturday afternoon at Hershey’s Giant Center.
“I told the kids at halftime, this is my fifth western finals, and the only ones we’ve won were the ones we were losing at the half, so it was a good omen,” related 14th-year Tigers’ taskmaster Doug Biega.
“I love it! I love every minute of it,” Biega admitted. “I told the guys, ‘this winning thing is like a drug, and you just can’t get enough of it.’ ... But I also told them, ‘We didn’t sign up to go to Hershey; we signed up to win, so we have some work left ahead of us.’”
The Falls forged a 40-32 lead entering the 4th frame, erasing an 8-minute journey that included 4 lead changes and a deadlock.
Elijah Cottrill — handcuffed to 2 first-half free throws — converted a traditional 3-point play with 3:14 remaining in the 3rd, snapping a 32-all stalemate. The Tigers never trailed thereafter.
Cottrill (9 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists) and Drew Cook (8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists) — Beaver Falls’ bountiful backcourt, though donating their damage — deferred to role players Danny Stratton and Javon Turner, with 10 and 12 points, respectively, and Zach Miller and Micoy Mason, both of whom drilled 2 second-half treys and scored 12 and 8, respectively.
“ ... The role players stepped up, and it was huge,” Biega began. “That’s what they’re supposed to do. They play basketball for Beaver Falls, and their role is to make shots and play defense, and they both did that wonderfully (Tuesday) night, and I’m proud of them for that ’cause they work really hard.”
Dogan distinguished himself with a game-high 17-point, 9-rebound, 5-assist line. However, if Dogan was seeing double, it wasn’t owing to a concussion. Beaver Falls’ defense dogged Dogan from baseline to baseline, running a variety of Cottrill, Cook, Turner and Cadee Akins at him and doubling down when possible.
Ultimately, West Middlesex made 13 miscues; Beaver Falls 4.
“Cadee Akins, a senior, stepped up at halftime and said he wanted (Dogan), and he wanted us to run our pressure defense (”Jet”), which we got together and liked the idea,” Biega related, continuing regarding Dogan,
“That’s what we’re good at (pressure defense). He’s a really good player. He gets the benefit of a lot of calls, but we just had to find a way to speed up the tempo, because they had it to their liking in the first half, in the twenties, so we had to speed it up by whatever means necessary.”
Dogan dominated in the 1st half, backing down Beaver Falls’ smaller guards into the lane, then spinning for baby hooks (10 points on 5 for 8 shooting), or using his court vision to dish to the corners. Jerrod Palmer pumped in a trio of 1st-half triples, the 2nd of which with 5:53 remaining in the 2nd stanza moved Middlesex to a 14-12 margin, its initial lead. That erased the Tigers’ game-opening 7-0 spree.
Middlesex (25-4) made a living from the free-throw line to this point in the season (550 of 774, 71 percent), led by Dogan (229 of 307, 74.5) and Trey Staunch (148 of 191, 77.4). But Beaver Falls fouled only 12 times, and the Big Reds recorded just a 4-for-5 effort. Conversely, the Tigers tallied 13 of 15.
“I wrote it on the (grease)board: ‘Keep Dogan off the foul line,’” Biega related. “He gets, like, ‘Jordan Rules,’ so we had to find a way to limit him. And I said if he was in single digits in his free-throw attempts (3 for 3), we would win. It wasn’t, like, 20-for-23 against Bishop McCort.”
Dogan drilled a pair of free throws with 1:31 remaining, drawing Middlesex within 51-45, but the Big Reds drew no closer.
In addition to the Gannon University-bound Dogan — who concluded his career with 2,245 points — Staunch scored 13 and snared 7 caroms, and Jeremy Jancso joined in with 8 points, a team-high 8 rebounds, and blocked 3 shots, Jancso, and a pair of 1st-half personal fouls, collared Cottrill. But as in the teams’ season-opening meeting (won by Beaver Falls, 50-41), Cottrill contributed 7 points and 2 assists during the 2nd half.
Dogan, Palmer, Jancso, Mike Ginther and Roman Klaric are seniors.
“I’m proud of my guys. They brought an entire community together,” Mild said. “I love every one of ’em. If you’d have seen the emotion in that locker room, you would know that they care about each other. And whatever accomplishments we’ve had, whatever success I’ve had (program-best 235-131, 64.2 percent), I owe it to those guys.
“My seniors were great leaders, great role-models for younger kids, and they set a standard in our program that I think will elevate us to the next level,” Mild continued.
“I love every one of ’em,” admitted Mild, his voice growing husky with emotion. “I told ’em, ‘Look up in the stands.’ They brought a lot of good people together, and some people who might’ve not liked each other, sitting together as a community, supporting them, and that’s what high school basketball is all about.
“We had the best group of parents we’ve ever had ... and that’s a reflection of the kids they gave us to coach,” Mild related.
Down a dozen with 28.2 ticks to play, Mild made the move to give Dogan and his classmates their moment, particularly emotional for Mild, as Dogan is his nephew.
“It was disheartening when you looked up there and saw him coming off the court, and knowing that you wouldn’t be coaching him again,” Mild admitted. “But the memories that he left us will last me a lifetime.
“From Jerrod Palmer, to Jeremy Jancso, to Roman Klaric, to Mike Ginther, every one of my seniors, they’ve been nothing but special to me. They’ve believed in me, and they got me to believe in them, and our community was behind them one-hundred percent,” Mild continued, concluding,
“We’re gonna reflect on this and enjoy what we’ve accomplished.”
PIAA CLASS AA
WESTERN REGION FINAL
BEAVER FALLS 12 10 18 19 59
W.MIDDLESEX 9 16 7 15 47
BEAVER FALLS — Cottrill 2-5-7-9, Cook 3-2-2-8, Stratton 3-2-2-10, Turner 5-2-2-12, Akins 0-0-0-0, Miller 4-2-2-12, Mason 3-0-0-8. 3-pt. goals: Stratton 2, Miller 2, Mason 2. Totals: 20-13-15-59.
WEST MIDDLESEX — M.Dogan 7-3-3-17, Palmer 3-0-0-9, Staunch 6-1-2-13, Jancso 4-0-0-8, C.Porterfield 0-0-0-0, R.Dogan 0-0-0-0, Ginther 0-0-0-0, J.Porterfield 0-0-0-0, Williams 0-0-0-0. 3-pt. goals: Palmer 3. Totals: 20-4-5-47.