Burrell-Beaver Falls title game reignites memories

| Saturday, March 2, 2013

While Burrell and Beaver Falls get ready for another WPIAL title game Saturday afternoon, it's time to look back at the first encounter between the Bucs and the Tigers 34 years ago.

In that one, Beaver Falls scored three baskets in the final 1:02 of the game to come away with a 55-54 victory at the Civic Arena in Pittsburgh.

While Saturday's game at Palumbo Center is for Class AA honors, the game March 9, 1979, was for the Class AAA crown, the largest enrollment classification at the time.

A crowd of 8,470 saw the game at the then-home of the Penguins.

This year's teams have a goal at the start of the tournament to make it to Palumbo Center for the finals.

Back then, all Class AAA playoff teams were on the big stage.

“I always tell people we played all four of our WPIAL playoff games at the ‘Arena,' ” then-point guard Brian Sharick said. “The crowds only half-filled the arena, but it was a great experience playing there. It was a great environment and atmosphere.”

To reach the WPIAL finals that year, Burrell beat Ringgold in double overtime. The 2012-13 Bucs needed just one overtime to beat Quaker Valley in the semifinals Tuesday night.

Things really looked bleak for the '79 Bucs against Ringgold after the Rams led, 29-14, at the end of the first quarter.

Sharick led the Burrell rally with 31 points.

“We fell behind and had a great comeback,” said Sharick, a longtime mathematics teacher at Knoch Middle School, former Burrell girls head coach and current Knoch boys assistant. “I think that was my best game in my career — high school or college.”

Sharick spoke to the current team after a closed-door practice Friday.

In the Beaver Falls game, Burrell took an 11-2 advantage in the first quarter. The Tigers didn't take their first lead until the fourth quarter.

The lead changed hands four times in the fourth before Burrell forged ahead, 54-49, with a little more than a minute to play.

“I was on the floor thinking ‘in a little more than a minute, we're going to be champions,' ” Sharick said.

But then Beaver Falls got two baskets from guard Damon Bryant to pull within, 54-53, with 32 seconds to go.

Burrell broke the full-court press, but Sharick was trapped by three Tigers. In the game's most controversial play, a jump ball was called, though many felt Sharick still had the ball in motion.

In those days, there was actually a jump ball.

Dwight Collins, later a wide receiver for Pitt and the Minnesota Vikings, won the tip, and Bryant scored with five seconds to go.

Bryant finished with 26 points. Burrell's Joey Myers had 22.

In the 1979 game, there were no substitutions. All 10 players played the entire game.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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