By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
STEVE MILLER, the 1970’s rocker, once wrote, “ ... You’ve gotta go through hell before you get to heaven ... ”
Perhaps that’s the mind-set for the West Middlesex High boys’ basketball team.
Including Saturday’s 55-50 overtime PIAA Class AA playoffs opening-round win over Jeannette, the Big Reds have rolled to 19 consecutive conquests.
In essence, West Middlesex has not yet lost midway through the 3rd month of this calendar year.
But with approximately 2 weeks remaining in this season, one of the program’s most painful moments in the last 2 years may have set in motion Middlesex’s momentum this March.
Losing to Lincoln Park Charter, 47-45, at the buzzer in last season’s Class A western regional championship game — convoluted logic though it may appear to be — renewed the Big Reds’ resolve to close the deal this year by hoisting hardware in Hershey.
Ironically, Lincoln Park’s Leopards appeared locally Friday night. For the 3rd in as many years, eliminating a Mercer County club, this time Kennedy Catholic, 54-45. There were many Middlesex people in attendance. However, exorcising demons did not interest Middlesex mentor Chad Mild.
“I’ve kind’ve put that to rest. I’m more worried about who’s in front of us right now,” admitted Mild. “I really haven’t throught about Lincoln Park since we played them last year; I’m more focused on (Wedesday’s opponent) Bishop McCort.”
While speaking, Mild was en route Sunday afternoon for a film exchange, fresh off one of the shorter — albeit enjoyable — night’s of rest he’s had in some time. Given that his club played in the finale of Saturday’s quadruple-header at Slippery Rock University, the fact the Reds were extended to overtime — though a quartet of extra sessions shy of their District 10 title tilt meeting with Lakeview a week earlier — and daylight savings time advancing clocks ahead by an hour — Mild might’ve been weary. Rather, he sounded energized.
“That was a quality win (over Jeannette), and we knew going in it wasn’t going to be easy,” he related. “Even though (Jeannette) got upset earlier (in the WPIAL tournament by Apollo-Ridge), I still think that was one of the top five teams in the west that we beat (Saturday) night,” he related.
“We ended up pulling it out in overtime (on Jerrod Palmer’s go-ahead corner triple, plus the free-throw shooting of Matt Dogan — 5 for 6 during the 4th quarter and OT — and Trey Staunch —14 for 16 overall, including 7 for 8 during the 4th frame and OT),” Mild said, emphasizing, “but when you look at that game, we won it at the defensive end. We held that team to fifty points, including the overtime (on 17 for 49, 34.6 percent shooting from the floor, while outrebounding the Jayhawks, 25-23, led by Dogan’s 8, Staunch’s 7, and Jeremy Jancso’s 6).
“That was the big key,” Mild admitted, “keeping them from getting inside the paint (6--foot-5 senior post Seth Miller, in early foul trouble — 3 with 1:17 remaining to intermission; 4 with 6:35 remaining in regulation) — not only did not score, but did not attempt a shot). And we know,” Mild added, “if we’re going to win big games down the road, we have to be able to to it on the defensive end.”
Regarding last year’s loss to Lincoln Park, Mild reflected, “I would agree with the statement that that gave us confidence. A lot of people — WPIAL teams — feel that because we’re from Mercer County, District 10, that we can’t compete. But we got a lot of confidence last year when we beat Beaver Falls (in New Castle’s Tipoff Tourney), then we beat North Catholic in the first round of the state playoffs. So we definitely know now that we can play with those teams.”
Mild is in the midst of his 14th year as Middlesex’s mentor. He’s the program’s winningest coach (234-130, 64.2 percent). He’s a product of the school — where he now teaches — and played for its basketball program, as did his father, brothers and nephews.
But in the spring of 2013 Mild is living in the moment, which makes driving to Cambria County on a Sunday afternoon almost a pleasurable experience. He and his Big Reds (23-3) will be traveling to Clarion University of Pennsylvania’s Waldo Tippin Gymnasium for a 7:30 p.m. date with Bishop McCort (19-8) Wednesday in the western regional quarterfinals.
“ ... I just want to make sure we’re well prepared,” Mild mused, adding, “We like (SRU’s Morrow Field House) — it’s like our home-away-from home, so we wish it was there. But I’d drive anywhere to go play right now.
“I don’t want to let any moment slip by,” Mild emphasized, adding, “This is a once-in-a-lifetime, and I want us to give ourselves every opportunity to win ... and I know our kids’ll leave it all on the floor.”