Schedule toughens Burrell for title run

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A competitive and challenging schedule is all Rob Niederberger wanted this season for his Burrell boys basketball team.

After spending the past two years battling against bigger schools in Class AAA, the Buccaneers are back competing in Class AA. Niederberger, however, made sure his team would face opponents from every WPIAL classification this season.

"What we want to do is challenge these guys with our schedule," the third-year coach said. "We want to play good teams. The only way to make yourself a better team is to play better competition."

Burrell improved to 9-2 overall and 3-0 in Section 1-AA with a 55-33 victory Tuesday against Apollo-Ridge.

"We've played well so far," Niederberger said. "We still have a long way to go. We've constantly preached to the guys that it's not how you start, it's all about how you finish."

Burrell's losses were a 53-39 non-section defeat on Dec. 8 against Quaker Valley and a 68-38 decision to Loyalsock, a Class AA team from the Williamsport area, in a holiday tournament at State College.

After the Quaker Valley loss, the Bucs rolled through their next five opponents, knocking off Steel Valley, Springdale, Neighborhood Academy, St. Joseph and Ford City.

"We expect to win," Niederberger said. "When I came here three years ago, this program was down and out. We had a decent team last year and we have brought that level up to where we expect to win."

Experience has helped Burrell from the outset.

Senior point guard Alex White, senior guards Pete Spagnolo and Jake Prefling as well as senior forward Cole Bush and senior forward/center Matt Hess make up the starting five.

"The great thing about this team is that these guys are really close," Niederberger said. "This is a great group to coach. These guys aren't teammates -- they're brothers. I know some coaches might say that stuff, but it's really true with us.

"We don't have any superstar players. We have capable players. We have guys who will do what it takes to win."

Bush, a star running back for Burrell's football team, returned to basketball for his senior season after sitting out his junior year to concentrate on football.

"He was our MVP as a sophomore," Niederberger said. "He's an athlete and does things on the court that you can't coach."

Senior guard/forward Ryan Puchak has been the sixth man off the bench, while senior guard/forward James Liput, sophomore guard Joey Cox and senior forward Nick Nitowski also have contributed valuable minutes.

Liput, who started as a sophomore, also returned to the team this season after missing his entire junior year because of concussion symptoms.

According to Niederberger, Hess, Spagnolo and Bush consistently score in double figures and average 10 to 13 points a game. Hess was the team's leading scorer last season and averaged 12 points and seven rebounds a game.

"Sometimes in basketball, you're going to have nights where no one is hitting anything, but we have multiple guys who can step in to make sure that we don't have an off night," Niederberger said. "We're always ready to go."

"Our goal is to win the section [title]. "Burrell has only won a boys basketball section six times in school history. When you think of Burrell, you think wrestling. We want to change that this season."

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