’Canes beat Blackhawk, claim first place
New Castle (61) Vs. Blackhawk (53)
By RON PONIEWASZ JR.
Four words from New Castle High boys basketball coach Mark Stanley summed it up best.
“How ’bout them ’Canes?”
Stanley shouted the praise to his players in the locker room following last night’s 61-53 victory over Blackhawk in a WPIAL Section 2-AAA battle at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House.
The victory pushes New Castle (8-2 section, 13-5 overall) into first place, a half-game above the Cougars (7-2, 11-6). It also snapped a four-game losing streak to Blackhawk.
The Cougars are ranked No. 5 in the WPIAL by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“Everybody gets fired up for Blackhawk,” Stanley said. “It’s a nice win and we’ll celebrate, but it’s back to work (today).”
The ’Canes, seeking their first section title since 2002, have won nine in a row.
New Castle broke a 29-all deadlock by opening the second half on a 5-0 run and kept the lead the rest of the way. The ’Canes extended the margin to 44-35 with 2:10 to play in the third period when Mike Cox sank a circus shot on a drive in the lane.
“We talked at halftime about them getting easy looks because we’re not doing what we’re supposed to,” Stanley said. “We were able to force them into tougher looks and we knocked a couple of shots down; when you do that the defense picks up.”
New Castle was up 45-39 after three periods, but Zack Hayward drained a 3-pointer for the Cougars to cut the deficit to 46-44 with 5:28 to play.
However, the ’Canes used an 8-1 run over the next two minutes to recapture command at 54-45.
New Castle, averaging 60 percent at the foul line, struggled again, converting 17 of 29 attempts. The ’Canes were 10 of 17 in the final frame, but they made 7 of 10 in the final two minutes.
“Free throws could cost you a game,” Stanley said. “You have to hit them and at big moments we’re splitting them.
“We finally got a string together and put it away. It’s always a concern because some nights we shoot them well and some nights we don’t.”
D.J. Damazo paced Blackhawk with 16 points, 12 in the first half. He netted four of his points in the first 1:04 of the contest by wiggling free underneath for layups.
“We weren’t controlling the dribble,” Stanley said. “I thought in the second half we made him take some tough shots.
“Once we got under him and got him to where he wasn’t able to square his shoulders, we forced some bad shots.”
The ’Canes settled down defensively and the offense came together to forge a 17-15 lead after one period. Tyrone Steals buried a 3-pointer from NBA range at the buzzer to close the quarter.
“That’s a nice shot, it gets the crowd into it and gives us a lead,” Stanley said. “Something like that can’t make you or break you at that point, but it gives you more energy.”
Steals led the ’Canes with 16 points, four rebounds and three steals.
New Castle got into trouble in the second quarter when Rodney Parchman picked up his third foul with 5:11 left. Stanley had to put him on the bench for the rest of the half and the ’Canes were tied at 29 at the break.
“Those fouls hurts us,” Stanley said. “We keep talking about our depth.
“Rodney was on the bench and we still had a tie at halftime. These kids believe in each other and it’s a team effort.”
New Castle’s Stephen Richardson was a force in Parchman’s absence, netting 15 points, five rebounds and a pair of steals.
“It was a big game, I knew I had to come out and play hard,” Richardson said. “I was ready to go and pumped up for this game; it was time we got them back for those losses.”
Tonio Fulena contributed 12 markers for the winners.
“I think a lot of people were doubting us from the beginning of the year,” Fulena said. “We just wanted to come in and prove that we’re not the team from last year and the year before.”
The ’Canes return to action at 7:30 p.m. Friday when they travel to Center. New Castle held on for a 58-57 victory over Mark Jula’s squad in the first meeting.