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Burrell upsets another higher seeded team, moves on to Palumbo

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 10:54 p.m.
Burrell's Pete Spagnolo breaks through Quaker Valley's Qadir Taylor (23) after a pick by Burrell's Ryan Puchak during their WPIAL Class AA playoff game Wednesday at North Allegheny. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

Another overtime game, another head-shaking victory and another reason to believe the Burrell boys basketball team is for real.

The Buccaneers took another higher-seeded team to overtime and once again closed the deal, this time with a 43-32 victory over No. 6 seed Quaker Valley in the WPIAL Class AA semifinals Wednesday night at North Allegheny.

An improbable playoff run continues for the Buccaneers (19-6).

Mostly stone-faced on the sidelines, Burrell coach Rob Niederberger finally showed emotion in the post-game locker room.

“We have no stars on this team,” Niederberger said. “They all play for each other.”

Niederberger then asked a question back to reporters.

“What was the score?” the coach said. “I don't even know.”

Doesn't matter now. Burrell is headed back to the WPIAL championship for the first timce since 1979.

Burrell will take on No. 1 seed Beaver Falls (22-3) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Duquesne University's A.J. Palumbo Center.

A grind-it-out victory for Burrell against a team it lost to, 53-39, in a season-opening tournament occured on the same floor Niederberger played on as a senior at North Allegheny.

His Tigers team also made the WPIAL final at Palumbo during his senior year.

“It's so special to get there,” Niederberger said. “This team is identical to that one. I am best friends with those guys to this day.”

Burrell senior forward Cole Bush scored a game-high 16 points and grabbed 18 rebounds in the Bucs' 10th straight win. They upset No. 2 Greensburg Central Catholic in the quarterfinals.

“It came down to defense; every game we try to make it hell for the other team on defense,” Bush said. “This is amazing. But I don't think it will hit me until we walk into the gym on Saturday.”

Burrell out-rebounded Quaker Valley (20-5), 42-16. Bush had eight points across the fourth quarter and overtime.

“Cole Bush is an animal,” Niederberger said. “He's like all of our guys. They all want to see each other succeed.”

Burrell did most of its damage in overtime while standing still.

The Bucs made 9 of 19 free throws in overtime, including 5 of 9 by senior guard Pete Spagnolo, who grabbed nine rebounds.

Quaker Valley scored the first two points of the period, but Burrell sealed it with a 13-0 run, including a steal and hoop by Spagnolo and free throws by Bush, Alex White, Jake Prefling and Spagnolo.

“It was neck-and-neck for most of the game, but we finally grasped it in overtime,” Niederberger said. “We got a lot of second-chance points and that really helped give us an edge.”

After a steal by Burrell's James Liput and a player-control foul against Quaker Valley's Qadir Taylor, White and Spagnolo hit free throws to make it 39-32. Spagnolo's rebound allowed Burrell to call a timeout and he hit two free throws to make it 41-32 with 47.9 seconds left.

“We knew we had to ‘D' up tonight,” Spagnolo said. “We all believed we could do this. It's just pretty crazy to think of it actually happening.”

A mostly uneventful game for two quarters, Burrell took a 15-10 lead into halftime. Joey Cox hit a 3, and Bush scored on a tip-in to close the second quarter.

The third saw four lead changes and four ties and the teams went to the fourth tied at 23.

Neither team led by more than two in the fourth. Prefling made a 3 to put the Bucs up, 29-28, but Taylor converted a coast-to-coast layup to give the Quakers a 30-29 lead.

Hess hit a free throw with 43.5 seconds to send the game to overtime.

“We imposed our will,” Niederberger said. “Hats off to Quaker Valley. Mike Mastroianni is a great coach. Our guys got it done. It was ugly, but we got it done.”

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