Beaver Falls wins Class AA state title
This Beaver Falls lineup didn't have an abundance of talent, a star senior bound for the SEC or even a player taller than 6-foot-2.
Yet, this lineup won the PIAA title that last year's talented Tigers did not.
Micoy Mason scored nine of his 14 points during a fourth-quarter rally, including two 3-pointers from the 5-foot-9 senior that led Beaver Falls to a 69-63 victory Saturday over Holy Cross in the PIAA Class AA boys basketball championship at Giant Center in Hershey.
“We heard over and over that we were too small ... but we just tried to prove everybody wrong,” said senior Drew Cook, who scored 15 points.
This was the fourth state championship for Beaver Falls (28-3), which also won in 1970, 1994 and 2005.
The Tigers lost last year's state title game to Philadelphia's Imhotep Charter, 56-54, in overtime. That tall Beaver Falls team featured 6-8 guard Sheldon Jeter, now a Vanderbilt freshman, who was in Hershey to watch Saturday's victory.
This year's team had two gritty 6-2 guards who started last year's title game, Cook and junior Elijah Cottrill, and an overachieving roster that may lack the off-the-bus look of a state champion but certainly has the on-the-court heart of a winner.
“It is extremely fair to call them overachievers,” Beaver Falls coach Doug Biega said. “In no way can their talent or skill level be discounted because they can all shoot the ball very well. These guys are just a team in every true sense of the word.”
Dan Stratton scored 14 points and Cottrill had 12. Javon Turner had five steals and two momentum-changing fourth-quarter layups, and Zach Miller grabbed an important offensive rebound in the final seconds.
They also combined to force a much-taller opponent into foul trouble. Holy Cross senior Josh Kosin, a 6-6 center, had 25 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks, but was whistled for four fouls, all in the third quarter, slowing his second-half production.
Kosin's fourth foul was an offensive violation away from the ball, drawn by Stratton with 1:06 left in the third. That forced Kosin to take a seat next to Casey Gaughan, a Holy Cross forward who also had four fouls.
“They attacked with so much force,” Kosin said. “They were strong, so that hurt us a lot.”
Holy Cross had made 60 percent of its first-half shots (12-20) and held a 35-27 halftime lead, helped by Kosin's easy baskets. Beaver Falls never led until there was 5:08 left in the fourth quarter. Consecutive layups by Turner following steals gave the Tigers a 51-50 lead.
“I've never had a team that gets after it defensively at all five positions like this team does,” said Biega, whose Tigers forced 16 turnovers. “There are not weak spots on defense.”
Holy Cross reclaimed the lead with two free throws by Kosin. But two 3-pointers by Mason and one by Stratton in between put Beaver Falls ahead for good. The Tigers had a 60-56 lead with 3:55 left when Mason's shot from the left corner fell. Holy Cross had briefly switched to a zone defense, and Beaver Falls took advantage.
The Tigers were 8 of 21 from 3-point range, including three each by Stratton and Mason.
Leading, 66-63, with 15 seconds left, Cook missed two free throws, but Miller pulled an offensive rebound away from Kosin. Given another chance, Cook sank both with 10.3 seconds left.
“My thought was, if this doesn't go in, I've got to find a way to get that rebound,” Miller said.
“That was enormous,” Biega said.
Unlike a year ago, when Beaver Falls surrendered a two-point lead in the final minute of regulation in the loss to Imhotep Charter, the Tigers finished strong.
“We always had it in the back of our mind,” Cook said of that loss at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center. “We knew we wanted to get back here and win this time. ... It hurt really bad last year. This is just the greatest feeling I've ever experienced.”
He and Cottrill have discussed whether this year's Beaver Falls team could beat last year's lineup, with them as the only overlap between the two.
“Me and Elijah think so,” Cook said.
They have a trophy as proof.