By Corey J. Corbin
Herald Sports Correspondent
EDINBORO — All good things must come to an end!
Unfortunately for the Lakeview Sailors (23-5), that ending didn’t come in a storybook fashion with a state championship in Hershey, but rather, with a gut-wrenching 56-44 loss to WPIAL champion and No. 1 ranked Beaver Falls in the PIAA Western Region Semifinals Saturday afternoon at Edinboro University’s McComb Fieldhouse.
With the win, the Tigers (26-3) will face West Middlesex (25-3) in the PIAA Western Region Finals at a site and time to be determined Tuesday.
“For several months, this team sold out for each other and you can’t ask for anything more,” Lakeview coach Gary Burke said. “We talk team all the time. Yeah, the individual stuff is great, but we talk about the team being more important than anything. I don’t know how you could be more proud of a group of young men that came in day-after-day and battled. A lot of people thought Lakeview was pretty good, but I don’t think anyone expected us to get this far. That says so much about these kids. This was very, very special.”
After Beaver Falls jumped out to an early 7-0 lead, the Sailors charged back to keep the deficit to within a pair of buckets — 9 times they were within 6 points — but each time, Beaver Falls answered to push their lead to a more comfortable cushion.
The most notable coming at the start of the second half when Coty Gander converted a traditional three-point play to pull the Sailors to within 27-24.
The Lakeview defense forced Beaver Falls into 3 straight misses, but the Sailor offense failed to capitalize on the opportunity before the Tigers reeled off 5 straight points to take a more comfortable 32-24 lead.
Two free throws from Casey Greggs, a traditional three-point play from Dalton Boggs and a Zach VanDusen lay-up ended the third frame with the Sailors pulling to within 35-31, but Beaver Falls extended its lead back to 9 at 42-33 on a trey from Drew Cook and a pair of freebies from Elijah Cottrill and Dan Stratton.
Again, Lakeview charged back and cut the lead to 46-41 on a Boggs triple midway through the fourth quarter, but the Sailors would get no closer as Beaver Falls connected on 6-of-10 freebies to ice the game before Cottrill literally slammed the door shut with a transition dunk in the closing seconds.
“We’d get it to within a bucket or two and we’d make some unforced errors,” Burke said. “You have to give credit to Beaver Falls, because our kids were expecting that extra pressure and when they didn’t get it, we anticipated it and made a mistake because of it. That goes with the territory. When you get to this point in the season, you’re eventually going to run into a great team, but there’s a reason why we’re in the Elite Eight. We proved that tonight.”
While the Sailors had very little problems solving the Tigers’ vaunted pressure defense, Beaver Falls still coerced Lakeview into a season-high 26 turnovers.
“We handled their full-court pressure bar none better than anyone else has up to this point in the season,” Burke said. “Our kids were mentally prepared for their full-court press and we took them out of it. It was little bit of a surprise that they were able to turn us over as many times as they did in the half-court. We had uncharacteristic turnovers from guys that generally don’t make turnovers.”
Lakeview was led by its three senior starters — Boggs (16 points, 5 rebounds), Greggs (12 points, 4 assists) and Gander (10-point, 12-rebound double-double).
“We needed to do a better job of making ourselves available to Dalton when he came across the half-court,” Burke said. “At times, we got lackadaisical and didn’t give Dalton the help he needed to get us into our offensive sets.
“We did have some good looks. The kids scrapped and they hustled. They had some great basketball looks. Our kids just battled and that’s all you can ask for.”
With the loss, Lakeview must say good-bye to a pair of 1,000-point scorers in Boggs and Greggs, a two-year starter in Gander and a valued reserve in Andrew Fowler.
“I was asked a couple weeks ago if this was a great group of basketball players coming all the way up through (the program),” Burke said. “I said ‘No, they were a great group of kids.’ They were great kids from the word go, but they weren’t great basketball players. What they’ve been able to accomplish to this point is absolutely amazing.
“Dalton, Casey and Coty especially have played a lot of basketball and they got Andrew Fowler to come with them to play basketball. Those four have been thick as thieves. They are four kids that wanted the best for themselves and everyone around them. They were developed. If it weren’t Coach (Larry) Boggs getting these guys started in the elementary program and it weren’t for our LBA program and the coaches all the way up through, these kids wouldn’t be sitting here with their hearts ripped out of their chests. Some day, they’ll be able to look back and see what we really accomplished this year. Yeah, we don’t have any banners up on the wall for the season, but there hasn’t been a team that has garnered as much respect from the community than this group of seniors right here.”
Notes: Cook led Beaver Falls with 19 points, while Stratton and Cottrill contributed 15 and 14 points, respectively. ... Beaver Falls had 9 turnovers — including 5 in the third quarter. ... Lakeview held a 29-22 edge on the glass. ... VanDusen had 4 assists. ... Lakeview knocked down 15-of-37 field goals, 10-of-12 free throws and 4-of-11 from downtown. ... Beaver Falls made 17-of-43 shots, 19-of-25 from the line and 4-of-8 from behind the three-point line.
PIAA CLASS AA
WESTERN REGION QUARTERFINALS
LAKEVIEW 9 12 10 13 44
BEAVER FALLS 12 15 8 21 56
LAKEVIEW — Boggs 5-4-5-16, Greggs 3-4-4-12, Gander 4-2-2-10, B. Rice 2-0-0-4, VanDusen 1-0-1-2, A. Rice 0-0-0-0. 3-pt. goals: Boggs 2, Greggs 2. Totals: 15-10-12-44.
BEAVER FALLS — Cook 6-5-6-19, Cottrill 3-8-10-14, Akins 2-0-2-4, Turner 1-0-0-2, Stratton 4-6-7-15, Miller 1-0-0-2, Mason 0-0-0-0. 3-pt. goals: Cook 2, Stratton 1. Totals: 17-19-25-56.