By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
THEY’RE CELEBRITIES now. Not like Elvis, or The Beatles, or even the Michael Jordan-led 1990’s Chicago Bulls.
But in rural Mercer County, Lakeview High basketball players Dalton Boggs and Casey Greggs are as close as its gets to teen-aged head-turners.
Even on a Saturday afternoon at a girls’ basketball game, Boggs — blending into a crowd seems more in keeping with his personal profile preference, and his sidekick, the perpetually-grinning Greggs — draw attention.
Having played, less than 24 hours prior, in one of the most memorable games in the county’s tradition-rich hardwood history will do that.
The irony is that — while West Middlesex won the District 10 Class AA crown in 5 overtimes, 71-65 — in losing, Lakeview is lovable, because the Sailors showed no fear and so much heart.
As Herald sports writer Rob Malsom recently observed, years from now a million people will claim to have been in Slippery Rock University’s Morrow Field House on the night of March 1, 2013. But in reality it was the communities of West Middlesex, Sandy Lake/Stoneboro, and people on the periphery, mainly from the media.
But the stage belonged to Boggs, Greggs and their teammates; Middlesex’s Matt Dogan, Trey Staunch and the remainder of the Big Reds, and the respective coaches Chad Mild and Gary Burke.
Boggs boasted a 25-point, 6-rebound, 6-assist line, while Greggs grabbed a half-down rebounds in addition to scoring 16 points and handing out a handful of assists, and Coty Gander got a 10-point, 10-rebound double-double. They were outdone — slightly — by Dogan’s 36-point, 9-rebound, 6-assist performance and Staunch’s 16-point, 13-rebound twin-killing, and Jeremy Jancso joined in with a dozen points (statistics courtesy of Grove City College sports information director Ryan Briggs).
More impressive, Boggs, Dogan and Staunch played all 52 minutes, Jancso 51, and Greggs 49 before fouling out.
“It was a crazy game,” began Boggs, while standing in iconic E.J. McCluskey Gymnasium, where 7 state championship banners blew back and forth in a breeze. He paused, pondering the game’s historical significance before adding, “It’s definitely going to go down as one of the best games in District 10 history. We went out there and played tough.
Looking back,” Boggs admitted, “I’m not mad that we lost the game now. It was a hard-fought battle. We knew, coming in, we wanted to give them a dogfight. It was the third time we played them, so we got excited for that game.”
While the outcome played out over the course of those five 4-minute extra sessions, frenetic fans and families felt helpless, coaches called an endless series of times-out, writers ran out of adjectives. But one constant remained — a smile plastered on Greggs’ face each time he emerged from one of Burke’s huddles. Fearful? Nervous? Nah. Greggs would look up into the rafters waving his arms to exhort Lakeview’s fan-base.
“I just figured, whatever happens, I’m just taking in the moment, enjoying myself and trying to get everyone else to enjoy it, you know what I mean,” Greggs rhetorically asked, smiling at the recollection.
West Middlesex won the regular-season Region 2-AA championship, in part by sweeping the Sailors. But Greggs said the D-10 title tilt was different because, “We went out in the first two games and they put double digits (losses) on us both times. But we decided we weren’t going to take it this time, and we gave them a dogfight.
“We know who we are,” Greggs emphasized, “and we came in and did what we could do and gave them a game.”
“It was the most fun game I’ve ever played in,” Boggs admitted. “Great atmosphere, and I’ll never forget it.”
Echoed Greggs, “It’s unbelievable, the support that we get! When we can do things like that just to make it worth (fans’) while to come, it means so much to all of us.”
Boggs and Burke celebrated on the same evening in Sharpsville a few weeks ago. Boggs — as Greggs had previously done — reached the 1,000-point plateau while Burke brokered his 200th career coaching win in his 13th season as Sailors’ skipper.
Greggs, regarding Burke, observed, “We get along. We have a good relationship in basketball, and he pushes me more than anyone’s ever pushed me before, so I have ‘mad’ respect for him for that.”
“Like Casey said, (Burke) pushes us all and he cares about us all,” Boggs agreed. “He’s a great coach, and we just go out and play hard for him every game.”
Boggs’ dynamic is different as his dad, Larry, is Burke’s lead assistant. The son said of his father, “Basketball definitely brings us closer together, and he’s good at knowing when to be a coach, and when to be my dad.”
The best part? Both teams are preparing for the PIAA playoffs, which commence this coming weekend. And perhaps the most salient point made Friday night was by Burke.
Mere moments after the Sailors suffered the setback, Burke brought some perspective by peeking from the present to the immediate future:
“Let’s see,” he said, eyes sparkling, “if we can’t find that same basketball team (West Middlesex) for a fourth time in one year, because it was a heckava battle. Two teams that didn’t want to lose. It was a heckava six-dollar event for most of these people who walked in the door.”
“I hope so. It’d be a great story ... western final,” Boggs said. “It’s been our goal all year to make a state run, so we’re gonna see what we can do in the state playoffs, and hopefully meet ’em for a fourth time. It’s all we can wish for at this point.”
“I’m hoping to go the whole way, that’s the only goal in mind right now, “Greggs added. “We were looking for D-10 and we didn’t get that, so we might as well make another step.”
The question remains, however: Following Friday’s phenomenal feature, how much more can the rest of us take? Or, perhaps, it’s that we can’t get enough of this.
Ed Farrell is assistant sports edtior for The Herald.