STATE CHAMPS--Holy Cross’ Connor Callejas (13) stumbles as he dribbles against Beaver Falls’ Javon Turner in the first half of the PIAA Class AA boys basketball championship game, Saturday, March 23, in Hershey, Pa. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
by Genaro C. Armas
HERSHEY, Pa. (AP) — The Beaver Falls defense came in waves, and it didn’t stop whether the team was down 12 or surging ahead in the fourth quarter.
The Tigers’ pressure finally wore down Holy Cross late, especially with the Crusaders’ 6-foot-6 center Josh Kosin in foul trouble.
The Tigers took advantage of Kosin’s absence by attacking the basket, hitting 3-pointers and making clutch foul shots down the stretch to rally for a 69-63 victory Saturday to win the state Class AA title.
“We just ramped up the pressure a little bit to a level perhaps that they hadn’t seen,” Tigers coach Doug Biega said. “I’m just very proud of how our team closed the game.”
Micoy Mason hit two late 3-pointers and finished with 14 points for the WPIAL champions, who lost in the finals last year to Imhotep Charter, this year’s Class AAA champ. Four Tigers finished in double figures.
But the Tigers (28-3) pride themselves especially on defense. They limited the Scranton-area Crusaders (27-6) to 36 percent shooting in the second half after Holy Cross hit 60 percent before halftime.
Having Kosin (25 points, 11 rebounds) hampered with four fouls for much of the second half didn’t help. Holy Cross led by eight at the half and 48-41 after three quarters thanks in large part to Kosin.
He understandably plays a huge part in stabilizing Holy Cross on the offensive end, and provides a defensive presence down low.
But the Crusaders seemed to lose aggressiveness as Kosin and frontcourt-mate Casey Gaughan (10 points) battled foul trouble. Gaughan also entered the fourth with four fouls and eventually fouled out.
“Anytime guys get in foul trouble, we have a problem. We get short in a hurry,” Holy Cross coach Al Callejas said. “We had two guys in foul trouble and that kind of hurt us. It was a physical game.”
Beaver Falls got its last seven points at the foul line, including a pair of big shots by Drew Cook with 10 seconds left.
Just seconds earlier Cook missed two foul shots with his team leading by three. The errant free throws breathed new life into Holy Cross’ hopes for a miracle comeback. But Cook (15 points, six rebounds) dashed those hopes by sinking both shots.
Beaver Falls finished 8-of-21 shooting from the 3-point arc, including the three 3s in the final five minutes — two by Mason — and a handful of 3s in the first quarter that helped the Tigers hang in the game after Kosin dominated early.
“If we’re hitting our 3s and executing our plays, we’ll be in pretty good shape, and that’s what happened,” Mason said.
Beaver Falls’ Dan Stratton scored 14 points before fouling out, while Elijah Cottrill added 12.
Holy Cross controlled the pace early, buoyed by a boisterous student section that showed up in white for a makeshift “whiteout” inside the Giant Center.
Kosin gave Holy Cross a 35-27 halftime lead by altering a couple of shot attempts on the defensive end and hitting a pair of foul shots after chasing down a loose ball.
“We threw everything but the kitchen sink at that kid to stop him, and we really didn’t,” Biega said. “He scored 25 points in 27 minutes.”
What did stop limit Kosin was foul trouble.
Kosin picked up his fourth foul with 1:06 left in the third quarter. He and Gaughan were on the bench when the fourth quarter started, but the pair quickly re-entered as Callejas sought to slow down the Tigers’ momentum.
It didn’t really help. The Crusaders were outscored 28-15 in the final quarter.
“I’m so proud of our effort,” Callejas said. “Give Beaver Falls credit … They hustled all over the place. Eventually that’s what cost us.”
Callejas’ son, Connor, finished with 12 points and six assists for the Crusaders.
Beaver Falls last won a state title in 2005.