The last three times Beaver Falls played for a PIAA championship, the Tigers were led by a player with the last name of Jeter who eventually went on to play Division I basketball at a school in a major conference.
Coach Doug Biega doesn't have a Jeter on his roster this season -- and perhaps not a top-of-the-line college prospect -- but this Beaver Falls team might be just as good as its predecessors.
At the beginning of the season, a trip to the PIAA finals might have appeared to be a long shot for Beaver Falls, which graduated six of its top eight players from last year's team. But the Tigers (27-3) have rebuilt quickly and will take on Holy Cross (27-5) in the Class AA championship game Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Giant Center in Hershey.
Beaver Falls is the only WPIAL or City League boys team to advance to a championship game this season.
When Beaver Falls won the PIAA title in 2005 and lost in the championship game the following year, the Tigers featured high-scoring guard Lance Jeter, who went on to play at Nebraska.
When the Tigers reached the championship game last season, Jeter's cousin, Sheldon, led the way. Sheldon Jeter, a 6-foot-7 guard and the Post-Gazette's Player of the Year as a senior, now plays at Vanderbilt.
"This team has been a bit more balanced," said Biega, who also guided Beaver Falls to the championship game the previous three times. "Last year we had a totally different team. We graduated six of eight guys. We're built totally different this year. We don't have any big guys. Our guards are our strength."
A season ago, Beaver Falls was loaded with height. In addition to Jeter, the Tigers featured 6-6 Royce Watson and 6-5 Deyne Richardson. This season, Beaver Falls doesn't have a player taller than 6-3, but they do have a pair of guards who formed one of the top backcourt duos in the WPIAL this season.
Elijah Cottrill, a 6-3 junior, and Drew Cook, a 6-2 senior, have been excellent. Cottrill, who has attracted Division I interest in both basketball and football, averages 16.5 points per game. Cook averages 15.7. Both players started for Beaver Falls in a 56-54 PIAA championship game loss to Imhotep Charter last season.
"I remember watching the game against Imhotep," Holy Cross coach Al Callejas said. "I know their guards were really quick last year. Their quickness and their ability to shoot the ball was a pretty lethal combination."
But Beaver Falls is much more than Cottrill and Cook. Danny Stratton, a 6-2 junior and the team's de facto forward, has provided the Tigers with a strong third scoring option. Sophomore guard Javon Turner scored 12 points in a 59-47 PIAA semifinal win against West Middlesex, and senior guard Cadee Akins is one of team's top defensive players.
Senior reserves Micoy Mason and Zachary Miller combined to score 20 points in the second half of that semifinal victory.
Beaver Falls has won 17 games in row, but extending that by one more and winning the school's fourth PIAA title will be a tall task.
Holy Cross, the District 2 champion, will attack Beaver Falls with 6-7 center Josh Kosin, the school's all-time leading scorer who averages 19.1 points. One of Holy Cross' top reserves, Connor Jones, is 6-5 and averages 7.3 points. The Crusaders are also lethal from the perimeter, having made 153 3-pointers on the season.
Holy Cross, located in Dunmore just outside of Scranton, formed in 2007 as a merger between Bishop Hannan and Bishop O'Hara.
Bishop Hannan is the alma mater of former Syracuse standout Gerry McNamara, who is now an assistant on Jim Boeheim's staff.
Many in Western Pennsylvania were hoping for a New Castle-Chester final, but Lower Merion ended New Castle's season by defeating the Red Hurricanes, 67-63, in the semifinals. New Castle finished with a 29-1 record.
That means Chester (28-3) and Lower Merion (27-3) will meet in the final for the second year in a row when the two play Saturday at 8 p.m. Chester, the two-time defending champion, defeated Lower Merion in last season's final and also in this year's District 1 championship game.
Chester's Rondae Jefferson, a 6-7 guard and Arizona recruit, is ranked by Rivals as the No. 19 senior in the nation. Senior Darius Robinson, brother of former Pitt player Nasir, is another starter. Lower Merion is led by B.J. Johnson, a 6-7 guard headed to Syracuse.
In another all-Philadelphia final, District 12 runner-up Imhotep Charter (27-5) will take on District 12 fourth-place finisher Archbishop Carroll (23-6) Friday at 8 p.m.
Imhotep Charter won the PIAA Class AA championship the past two seasons before moving up to Class AAA this season. Its top player is Brandon Austin, a 6-7 senior guard and Providence recruit.
Archbishop Carroll, located in Radnor, just outside of Philadelphia but a member of the Philadelphia Catholic League, defeated Chartiers Valley, 49-46, in the quarterfinals and Montour, 50-45, in the semifinals.
The Patriots are led by 6-6 forward Derrick Jones, whom Rivals ranks as one of the top 50 sophomores in the country. Archbishop Carroll's coach, Paul Romanczuk, is the son-in-law of Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins.
District 12 champion Roberts Vaux (23-8) will play District 9 champion Johnsonburg (28-2) Friday at 2 p.m.
Vaux's Rysheed Jordan, a 6-3 point guard, is rated by Rivals as the No. 29 senior in the country. He plans on choosing between UCLA, St. John's and Temple in April.
Johnsonburg beat Lincoln Park, 59-53, in the semifinals.
First Published March 22, 2013 4:00 AM