Beaver Falls boys rout Burrell for WPIAL Class AA crown
Beaver Falls has had success in many WPIAL sports, but boys basketball coach Doug Biega wanted to make one thing clear Saturday afternoon.
“We're a basketball school,” Biega said succinctly after his Tigers whizzed past Burrell, 61-33, in the WPIAL Class AA boys basketball championship at Palumbo Center.
Back-to-back championships have given the Tigers (23-3) a swagger, a this-is-what-we-do mentality that teams like Burrell (19-7) can only hope to experience.
The top-ranked team in the state isn't ready to let someone else have the trophy. It made that abundantly clear from the start Saturday, scoring the game's first 15 points and coasting to a 32-8 lead by halftime.
It was like a Dikembe Mutombo finger-wave to a Burrell team that hadn't been to the WPIAL finals since 1979.
That year, the Buccaneers also lost to Beaver Falls.
Burrell's boys said they didn't feel much pressure heading into their first title game in 34 years. But when the game started, the Buccaneers couldn't escape it.
Burrell committed 12 of its 24 turnovers in the first quarter and never recovered.
“Beaver Falls is the best team in the state for a reason,” Burrell coach Rob Niederberger said. “Their press is the best we've seen all year. They denied the wing and never let us settle into our offense.”
The Bucs played the fast-paced Tigers, who have made the WPIAL playoffs 13 straight seasons, even in the fourth quarter, at 18-18. But the damage already had been done. They trailed by as many as 30 in the third quarter.
“That was the game plan: Come out and pressure all over the place,” said Beaver Falls senior guard Elijah Cottrill, who scored 14 points. “We had to pressure them full-court and at midcourt. If we let them get into a half-court game, their big guys are good and it would have been a closer game.”
Beaver Falls won its ninth WPIAL title, as Drew Cook scored 20 points and Dan Stratton had 13.
The Tigers, who fast-breaked their way to a 43-13 lead in the third, had just five turnovers.
“That's our game plan no matter who we play,” said Biega, who won his third WPIAL title and picked up his 300th career victory. “It's just that I believed that would be their kryptonite — for us to pressure their guards.”
Seniors Cole Bush and Pete Spagnolo led Burrell with 14 points apiece, but the rest of the team managed only five points. Spagnolo hit four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
The Bucs, much like Apollo-Ridge in the semifinals, appeared nervous and perhaps awestruck by the atmosphere. Bush said that was not the case.
Beaver Falls cruised past Apollo-Ridge, 71-39. Saturday's margin of victory was the smallest for Beaver Falls in the playoffs, which wasn't exactly a consolation to Burrell.
“We've played in big games in front of big crowds before,” Bush said. “It wasn't that. It's just that it all went too quick. I feel like we just got here and it's over.”
Both teams enter the PIAA playoffs and will play first-round games March 9. Beaver Falls will take on District 6 fourth-place finisher Bald Eagle Area. Burrell, which has never has won a state-playoff game, will play District 6 third-place finisher Bishop McCort.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.