Burrell wilts under Beaver Falls' pressure in WPIAL finals
Burrell players said they didn't feel much pressure heading into the program's first WPIAL basketball title game in 34 years.
When the game started, the Buccaneers couldn't escape it.
Beaver Falls treated Burrell like an unwanted guest at an invitation-only party, handily defending its Class AA title with hounding, pressure defense in a 61-33 victory on Saturday afternoon at Duquesne University's Palumbo Center.
Burrell (19-7), making its first championship game appearance since 1979, fell behind, 15-0, out of the gate and trailed, 32-8, by halftime.
“Beaver Falls in 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 (23-3) even in the fourth quarter, at 18-all, but the damage had already been done. They trailed by as many as 30 points in the third quarter.
Burrell committed 24 turnovers, half of them in the first quarter. Beaver Falls, which fast-breaked its way to a 43-13 lead in the third, had just five.
“Hats off to coach (Doug) Biega,” Niederberger said. “We struggled in our half-court and struggled to get open.”
Simply, Beaver Falls was too fast and, once again, set the tone from the start.
“We dug ourselves into a hole and couldn't get out of it,” Burrell senior forward Cole Bush said. “Our scout team couldn't (simulate) Beaver Falls' pressure.”
Bush scored 10 points in the second half and tied teammate Pete Spagnolo, who hit four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, with a team-high 14 points. The rest of the team had five points.
“I think we had some jitters,” Spagnolo said. “We had to handle their pressure better.”
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.
“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.”
Beaver Falls won its ninth WPIAL title, as guard Drew Cook scored a game-high 20 points, Elijah Cottrill added 14 and Dan Stratton had 13.
Burrell was going for its first WPIAL hoops title.
Somewhat of a positive for Burrell: Saturday's margin of victory was Beaver Falls' lowest of the playoffs. The Tigers beat everyone else by at least 30.
“When your strength is what you have to do in your game plan, it makes for an easy week of coaching,” said Biega, who won his third WPIAL title, “and an easy couple days to prepare.”
Burrell isn't done yet. The Bucs move into the PIAA bracket and will face District 6 third-place team Bishop McCort (18-8) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Gateway.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.