By Lisa Byers
March 16, 2013 7:00 a.m. —
As the old adage goes, in order to be the best you have to beat the best.
The Lakeview boys basketball team will get that opportunity this afternoon when it faces Beaver Falls in the PIAA Class AA quarterfinals at Edinboro University. Tipoff is set for 4:30 p.m.
Beaver Falls is ranked No. 1 in the state in Class AA in this week’s PennLive.com/Patriot-News rankings as it has much of the year. The Tigers are 25-3 on the year and, with the exception of those three losses, haven’t really been challenged all season long.
But that doesn’t mean the Sailors aren’t up for the challenge.
“Our kids are really excited,” Lakeview coach Gary Burke said. “They know they are definitely the underdogs going into this game. We have to play a perfect game to come away with a win. But you have to be excited to be in the western finals and have this opportunity.”
It was Beaver Falls that broke the hearts of this very same Lakeview squad one year ago in the opening round of the state playoffs. The Tigers won the game 69-37 and eventually advanced to the Class AA state title game where it fell to Imhotep Charter 56-54.
Of course, there are few differences this time around.
For example, Sheldon Jeter, who torched the Sailors’ defense for 23 points last year, has since moved on and is now a key contributor at Vanderbilt. And the Sailors? They are state playoff experienced.
“We have more confidence going against their pressure,” Burke said, acknowledging the loss of Jeter and much of the Tigers’ height from a year ago. “Last year, if you got through that press, then you have a 6-6 or 6-8 kid standing in the paint. We’re more confident about being able to finish once we do break the pressure.”
Beaver Falls’ pressure defense is its bread and butter and the majority of its points are scored as a result, according to Burke.
“It’s a man to man press,” Burke said. “They try to run and jump and trap you when they get there.”
Beaver Falls earned its spot in the quarterfinals with a 53-39 win over Mercyhurst Prep on Wednesday. The Tigers opened the state tournament with a 92-48 win over Bald Eagle Area.
That win over the green and white has given the Sailors some encouragment. Lakeview beat the Lakers 59-46 in the District 10 semifinals.
“We got some confidence from watching the Mercyhurst Prep game,” Burke said. “We know that we are a pretty good basketball team that was able to beat a pretty solid Mercyhurst Prep team. We saw some great things and will look to continue to build on what Prep did in our own way.”
Mercyhurst, despite losing that quarterfinal game, played the Tigers pretty well.
“There was about a 40 second period in the first quarter where Beaver Falls went from going down two to going up by six,” Burke said. “Those are the things we are going to have to avoid. We have to manage the game and keep them out of the 8-0 runs.”
The Tigers are led by Elijah Cottrill and Drew Cook. They are averaging around 16 points apiece. Cottrill, a 6-foot-3 junior, had 27 points in the win over Mercyhurst Prep.
For the Sailors, Dalton Boggs and Casey Greggs, both 1,000-point scorers for their careers, have led the team most of the year. It was big man Coty Gander, however, in the Sailors’ second round win over Greensburg Central Catholic on Wednesday bucketing a team-best 15 points.
Lakeview is 23-4 on the year.
“It is just a fantastic accomplishment to make it to the Elight Eight in the state,” Burke said. “The kids aren’t quite ready for the season to end. We just need to go out, play hard, play with courage and poise … We know we are going to have to be as disciplined as we have all season long.”
The winner advances to the state semifinal where it will face either West Middlesex or Conemaugh Township.