By Jim Hunter
The Lakeview Sailors have one heck of a story to tell their future children.
They played the No. 1 team in the state to the wire.
Lakeview’s magical season came to a painful end on Saturday night as Beaver Falls — the top-ranked Class AA team in the state by PennLive.com/Patriot-News — eliminated the Sailors with a 56-44 win in the PIAA quarterfinals at Edinboro University’s McComb Fieldhouse.
Coach Gary Burke’s Sailors finished the year with a 23-5 record.
“You can’t even imagine how proud I am of these kids,” said Burke. “They put their heart and soul into this season. They are hurting right now, but when they reflect back on this season, they will be extremely proud of what they accomplished ... the elite eight.”
Although the Sailors were on the losing end, the scene afterwards was priceless: The Lakeview fans giving their players encouraging hugs and pats on their backs on their way to the locker room.
“The support our community has given us this year has been unbelievable,” said Burke.
Burke was gracious in his post-game interview, but it was obvious the Sailors’ boss was steaming inside.
Better ball-handling and execution and ... the Sailors could have upset top-ranked Beaver Falls. Pressured full court by the lightning-quick Tigers, Lakeview committed an uncharacteristic 24 turnovers, 10 of which came in the third quarter.
“We didn’t handle their pressure as well as I hoped,” he said. “You can’t take a break against them and they wore us down. We made some unforced errors which hurt us. We didn’t have enough ball handlers to beat their pressure.”
Beaver Falls attacked Lakeview immediately, jumping out to a 7-0 lead after forcing the Sailors into three turnovers in the opening three minutes.
Burke and company were forced to play catch-up the rest of the way.
After sinking a running six-foot jumper, senior Dalton Boggs bombed in a 3-pointer to get the Sailors to within 7-5 with 3:37 remaining in the first quarter.
Beaver Falls showed signs of blowing the game open in the second period — scoring 10 unanswered points to take a 22-10 lead with 5:20 showing on the clock.
Lakeview’s achilles heal again: Three turnovers during the spurt.
The Sailors kept fighting. Down 25-14, senior Casey Greggs drained a 3-pointer and Brandon Rice scored on an offensive rebound to get Lakeview within 25-19 with 1:59 remaining in the first half.
Then, in the closing seconds, Boggs scored on a breakaway to cut the Sailors’ deficit to 27-21 heading into the locker room at halftime.
The mighty “mo” sliding to Lakeview’s bench? It appeared that way.
On Lakeview’s opening possession in the third quarter, Coty Gander scored on a three-point play to cut Beaver Fall’s lead to 27-24.
The Sailors couldn’t quite get over the hump.
The Tigers answered with six quick points to increase their lead to 33-24 with 3:32 left in the third quarter.
Trailing 35-31 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Lakeview had a chance to get within two points, but Gander’s inside attempt went around the rim and off.
A la the third quarter, Beaver Falls didn’t allow Lakeview to get any closer as the Tigers outscored the Sailors 7-2 to take a 42-33 lead with 4:39 left in the game.
Boggs connected on a 3-pointer to get the Sailors within 46-41 with 3:25 remaining on the clock and had a possession to get even closer, but ... the Tigers forced another turnover.
Game over. The Tigers sealed the deal by making six-of-eight free throws in a span of 48 seconds to increase their lead to 52-41.
Lakeview’s main three — Boggs, Greggs and Gander — hit double figures in their final game. Boggs and Greggs tossed in 14 and 12 points, respectively, and Gander scored 10 and also pulled down a team-high nine rebounds.