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WPIAL notebook: Burrell bends under Beaver Falls' defense

| Sunday, March 3, 2013, 12:36 a.m.
Valley News Dispatch
Burrell's Alex White (22) attempts to shoot the ball against Beaver Falls' Elijah Cottrill (3) and Dan Stratton (12) during their WPIAL Class AA championship game on Saturday, March 2, 2013, at Palumbo Center in Pittsburgh. Beaver Falls won the game, 66-31. (Jason Bridge | Tribune-Review)

Although Burrell's two WPIAL title-game losses were against the same school, the flow of the games were vastly different.

In 1979, the Bucs lost a heartbreaker to Beaver Falls, pulling out to an 11-2 advantage and leading most of the way until Beaver Falls registered a deciding basket with 5 seconds left.

On Saturday, the Tigers took a 15-0 lead before Cole Bush scored for Burrell with 1:04 left in the first period. Beaver Falls won the Class AA final, 61-33.

The Bucs committed turnovers in each of their first four possessions Saturday and seven of the first nine times Burrell had the ball.

The cause? Beaver Falls' relentless defense.

The Tigers challenged the Burrell guards from the moment a possession started, preventing the Bucs from working the ball inside to big men Bush and Matt Hess.

“That was the game plan — come out and pressure all over the place,” Beaver Falls senior Elijah Cottrill said. “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.”

Defensive pressure isn't just part of an occasional game plan for Beaver Falls — it's a way of life.

“That's our game plan, no matter who we play,” Tigers coach Doug Biega said. “It's just that I believed that would be their kryptonite — for us to pressure their guards.”

300 for Biega

Though just 42 years old, Biega reached 300 career victories. The 1988 Center High School graduate is in his 14th season at Beaver Falls.

After missing the 2000 playoffs in Biega's first year, the Tigers have made the playoffs each of the past 13 seasons.

Saturday's WPIAL title was the third during his tenure; Beaver Falls won gold in 2005 and '12. He also has had teams reach at least the semifinals nine times.

Biega's Tigers lost the 2008 title game to Jeannette and the '04 finals to rival Aliquippa.

The only Beaver Falls team under Biega to lose in the first round was the 2001 squad, which fell to Shady Side Academy.

Up next

The Bucs will open PIAA tournament play Saturday at Gateway against Bishop McCort. Game time is 4:30.

The Crimson Crushers defeated Bald Eagle Area, 68-43, in a District 6 consolation game for third place Friday night.

Burrell's next goal will be to win a PIAA playoff game. The Bucs are 0-3 in the state tournament, losing to Erie Strong Vincent (1979), Penn Cambria in ('84) and to Blackhawk (2001).

The Burrell girls don't have to travel too far, either, to open PIAA play. Coach Meghan Ziemianski's team will see action Friday at Plum High School in a 6 p.m. contest against District 6 runner-up Bellwood-Antis.

Leechburg still the one

With Burrell's loss Saturday, Leechburg remains the only local school to win a WPIAL basketball title in the 21st century. Leechburg brought home the Class A gold in 2007.

Among finalists who have come up short include Highlands in (2002, '09), Knoch (2004) and St. Joseph (2005).

In girls basketball, Freeport's 2004 team, along with Ford City (2007) and Fox Chapel (2009), all had to settle for silver medals.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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