West Xtra: Memory of loss driving force for Beaver Falls

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They won 28 games last season and a section title. This season the Beaver Falls boys basketball team already has 23 wins under its belt. Saturday it won its second consecutive WPIAL Class AA championship.

But that hardly means this group of Tigers is satisfied. One could argue there may be no hungrier team left playing in the states.

The hunger has nothing to do with the 51 wins the team has piled up over the past two seasons, but rather one loss.

Last year in the PIAA Class AA final, Beaver Falls lost, 56-54, in overtime to Philadelphia Public League school Imhotep Charter. The Tigers were actually closer to PIAA gold than the final score indicated.

They had a two-point lead and the ball out of bounds with 25.5 seconds remaining in regulation but a steal and a basket and the game was headed to overtime. In overtime the Tigers had the ball down two with a chance to win or tie but a last-second two-point shot by Drew Cook fell short.

The season ended not with PIAA gold but a tearful Beaver Falls locker room.

While they may have WPIAL gold around their neck, they have something else on their shoulder.

"Yeah we definitely have a little chip on our shoulder from last year," Cook said.

Junior guard Elijah Cottrill, another starter back from last season, said, "We're still hungry. We want to get back to states. Last year we should have won that game."

Now in his 14th season at Beaver Falls, coach Doug Biega knows what it takes to reach and win the PIAA championship. He won a state championship in 2005 and also reached the PIAA final in 2006 and last season.

"Last season left them with a little bit of hunger," Biega said. "When you talk about state championship aspirations, you can almost kind of see a little pain in their eyes from how it ended last season. It is a bad thing we went through that but a good thing if you are looking for a reason to get back."

Beaver Falls begins its PIAA tournament at 6 p.m. Saturday at North Allegheny when it plays the fourth seed out of District 6, Bald Eagle Area (21-4).

Biega has seen a lot of teams from a lot of districts around the state in 14 years, but his Beaver Falls teams have never played Bald Eagle Area.

"They are 21-4, anytime you win 21 games, it doesn't matter who you play, that is a lot of games," Biega said.

If the Tigers want to make a return trip to the PIAA final, they will have to do so with an entirely different game plan than last season. Last year Beaver Falls had plenty of size and depth and Sheldon Jeter, a first-team all-state selection who is currently playing at Vanderbilt University.

This year Biega's tallest player is Cottrill at 6 feet 3 and he generally only plays seven players a game.

"When your tallest guys are 6-1 and 6-3, the one game you don't show up is when you pack your bags," Biega said. "This is actually the least deep team I have had in 14 years."

Last time the Tigers were making back-to-back runs to the PIAA finals, Biega would play 10 players a game. This season he has 10 players on his entire roster.

Pressure defense has always been a staple of Beaver Falls basketball. This season it is not only a staple but a necessity.

"I really stress to our guards, if you don't make it very difficult to get the ball inside, then we are going to be in for a long night," Biega said. "This group really cares about the team concept, they know their job is to pressure the basketball."

While the makeup of the team is different, the WPIAL result was the same. Beaver Falls' 61-33 win against Burrell Saturday gave the program its ninth WPIAL title in school history and gave Biega his 300th career win.

Cook scored a game-high 20 points in the win, Cottrill added 14 and junior guard Danny Stratton added 13. Maybe most impressive was Beaver Falls was able to force 28 turnovers.

After its PIAA playoff run last season and a brutal non-section schedule this year, it is hard to imagine Beaver Falls running into something it has not seen before. Its three losses this year read like a who's who of WPIAL basketball. It lost to Class AAAA champion New Castle, Class AAA champion Montour and Class A No. 1 seed Lincoln Park.

"That is why you schedule Lincoln Park, they are so tall," Biega said. "If you run into a [District 10 champion] West Middlesex you want to be acclimated. We played Montour with really steady point guard play with Devin Wilson, and they're so well coached. And playing New Castle, that prepares you for a guard-oriented team."

Cook added, "I'm pretty sure we have seen everything."



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