New Castle eliminated from playoffs

The door on the New Castle High boys basketball team’s playoff hopes slammed shut last night.

The Red Hurricane turned the ball over 21 times and couldn’t recover in a 61-47 loss to North Allegheny in WPIAL Section 3-AAAA action at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House.

“I thought the kids played hard and they’re going to get better,” New Castle coach Mark Stanley said. “We need to stay focused on the rest of the season and finish strong. We still have things to work on and to prove.”

With the loss, New Castle (3-8, 7-13) is eliminated from playoff contention. The victory secured the section championship outright for the Tigers (9-1, 19-2).

“It’s the first year we didn’t set any goals,” North Allegheny coach Dave DeGregorio said. “The kids talk about goals when I’m not around, but we didn’t set any.”

The game also marked the last home contest for New Castle competing in Section 3-AAAA. The ’Canes will drop down to Class AAA after the season.

The ’Canes led 21-17 late in the first half before losing their momentum.

Andy Blumer sank a pair of foul shots with 1:45 to go and Geoff Greco notched a bucket in the lane to close the half at the buzzer and knot the count at 21.

North Allegheny kept its momentum by scoring five straight points in the first 20 seconds of the second half. Jeff Finke drained a 3-pointer five seconds into the half to give the Tigers the lead for good. Ted Connolly added a field goal for a 26-21 advantage, prompting a timeout from New Castle coach Mark Stanley.

“They knocked down some shots and got in their pressure,” Stanley said. “They got a little momentum from that first 3-pointer and hit a couple buckets to open the second half.

“We weren’t locating Finke and he hit the shots. He made us pay for our mistakes.”

Finke recorded all 11 of his points in the third quarter.

“I think he made some shots that forced them to extend the defense out a little bit,” DeGregorio said of Finke’s play.

New Castle mounted a mini run later in the period. Down 32-26 with 4:39 left, the ’Canes got within 32-31 on a basket by Tyrone Steals with 3:21 left. However, it was as close as the ’Canes would get the rest of the way.

Turnovers plagued the ’Canes throughout the game, but they proved costly in the third stanza. New Castle committed eight miscues in the frame and the Tigers took advantage by outscoring the hosts 21-14. Every time the ’Canes got close, they turned the ball over and the Tigers pushed the lead out again.

“That’s 21 possessions you don’t get a look at the hoop,” Stanley said. “A lot of times I make the statement I’d rather kick it at the hoop than turn it over. At least you have a chance it will go in, that way you’re getting back on defense.”

North Allegheny is playing at a quicker pace this year and it’s proving tough on the opposition at both ends.

“We defended much better in the second half and forced a good amount of turnovers,” DeGregorio said. “Our goal is to force 25 turnovers and it’s going to happen with the way we play; you have to get the opposition out of their comfort zone.”

New Castle got within 44-40 with 6:33 remaining in the contest, but North Allegheny took control with a 10-3 run for a 54-43 buffer.

Nick Colella led the ’Canes with 15 points and 11 rebounds, while Steals added 12 markers and four steals. Mike Andrews contributed 11 points and nine boards. It was the final home game for Colella and Andrews.

“I thought Colella and Andrews both played well for New Castle,” DeGregorio said. “Colella creates opportunities for other players.”

Steve Kirsch paced North Allegheny with 13 points and Ted Connolly added 12.
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