Lady ’Canes refuse to lose WPIAL title
New Castle (54) Vs. West Mifflin (47)
By RON PONIEWASZ JR.
rponiewasz@ncnewsonline.com

PITTSBURGH — The New Castle High girls basketball team left its customary man-to-man defense to open the second half in a 3-2 zone.

It was a golden move.

The Lady ’Canes shut down West Mifflin’s athleticism and secured their third WPIAL championship with a 54-47 win over the Lady Titans in the Class AAA title game Saturday at Duquesne University’s A.J. Palumbo Center.

“We didn’t have a choice, especially with two starters with two fouls early on,” said New Castle coach Luann Grybowski of the switch. “We can do a little bit of everything and the 3-2 zone happened to work for us, so we stuck with it.”

The WPIAL championship is New Castle’s third. The previous two crowns came in Quad-A.

“This is extra sweet,” Grybowski said. “Like the first one, we weren’t picked to do it.

“These kids really worked hard and it’s a great feeling every year.”

The Lady ’Canes are now 24-2 and winners of 12 straight. Both New Castle and West Mifflin will compete in the PIAA playoffs, which begin Saturday.

New Castle will meet the winner of Tuesday’s play-in game between Erie East-Clearfield at 3 p.m. Saturday at North Allegheny High School.


MAKING THE SWITCH

New Castle’s height and length in the 3-2 zone made it difficult for West Mifflin to work the ball inside. The Lady Titans had just one turnover in the third period, but they had to work for shots.

“They went to a zone and we thought we were prepared; we worked on it all day (Friday),” West Mifflin coach Phil Shar said. “Most teams try to play us man and find out we’re kind of tough to guard man-to-man.”

Kaylynn Waters scored her first two points on a runner to knot the contest at 40 with 47 seconds left in the third quarter. Jayla Leftwich of West Mifflin got free under the basket but she couldn’t convert on a layup as the horn sounded to end the period.

The teams traded the lead to open the fourth quarter. Monica Poupakis drained a 3-pointer from the left corner with 3:04 to play to put West Mifflin up 47-46. It proved to be the final points for the Lady Titans.


FOUL TROUBLE
LaShauna Brothers checked back in with 5:08 to play after sitting for nearly 10 minutes because she picked up her fourth foul with 6:42 to go in the third period. She sank a field goal in the lane with 2:45 to play to give the Lady ’Canes the lead for good at 48-47. Brothers was fouled on the play but she missed the foul shot.

“It was a tough call on my part; I didn’t get LaShauna out in time,” Grybowski said. “I was trying to hold out and I didn’t think she’d pick up that fourth one.

“The score dictated when we put her back in. She knew she had to go in and stay in for us.”

Ashley DeHass, a senior, filled in well in Brothers’ absence. DeHass didn’t score, but she was solid on defense.

“LaShauna’s a key player, so whenever I go in and fill in for her it’s very important,” DeHass said. “She scores a lot of points for us, so you have to step up your game when you go in.

“I was sitting on the edge of my chair. Being a senior, I couldn’t wait to get in the game.”

Said Grybowski, “(Ashley) stepped in and did a great job; she held the fort. We didn’t lose anything with her on the floor. She’s a big, strong girl and she can do what needs to be done; she gives us those good minutes.”

Brothers finished with a game-high 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting, to go along with a game-best 10 rebounds and a trio of steals. She had 15 of her markers in the first half.

“She definitely stepped up (Saturday),” Grybowski said. “That’s what she’s capable of doing every game.”



STEPPING UP
Shelby Rodgers pulled down a clutch rebound off the Brothers’ missed foul shot and she worked the ball to McPhatter. McPhatter hit a field goal in the paint for a 50-47 buffer.

McPhatter contributed 10 points and eight rebounds, while Rodgers recorded eight points, seven boards and three assists.

“I never doubted us,” McPhatter said. “I just kept my mind focused on how we got this and how we’re a team that can come back because we’ve done it before.”

West Mifflin missed a shot on its next possession and Rodgers secured the rebound with 2:04 to play. New Castle couldn’t extend the lead because of turnovers on its next two possessions.

Rodgers was large on the defensive end, snaring a board with 1:31 left and corralling the ball after a blocked shot with a minute to play. Jazelle Dennis gave the Lady ’Canes a cushion, burying a pair of foul shots with 49.7 seconds to play to make the score 52-47.

“I was nervous (at the foul line),” Dennis said. “But I basically stepped up and knocked them down.”

McPhatter swatted a 3-pointer attempt by West Mifflin’s JaCoiya Vaughn-Reid with 33.4 seconds left and Rodgers stole the ball with 28 seconds left.

“Shelby came up big for us down the stretch. She was getting key rebounds and a big steal,” Grybowski said.

Waters closed the scoring with a pair of foul shots with 24 seconds remaining. She dribbled out the final few seconds and threw the ball high in the air as the clock expired and the Lady ’Canes celebrated another crown.

“I was nervous when the game started, but I started to settle down a little bit,” Waters said. “It feels good to be a champion.”


SLOW START
New Castle, which trailed the entire first half, fell behind 21-13 after one quarter and 26-13 early in the second stanza. The 13-point margin was the biggest lead for either squad.

“We got off to an exceptionally slow start and there was a lot of nerves and jitters,” Grybowski said. “I thought if we could keep it around 13 or get it under 10 at the half we’d be fine.”

Jessica Pitts paced the Lady Titans with 16 markers and Leftwich was next with 10, eight of which came in the first half.

Trailing 32-24, the Lady ’Canes closed the half on an 8-0 run to forge a 32-all deadlock at the break. Zynieckia Bester cashed in a 3-pointer from the right corner to make it 32-29 with a minute to go and Rodgers drained a trifecta with four seconds left to close the first-half scoring.

Said Grybowski, “That late run turned the whole game around. It got the kids believing that they weren’t going to lose.”
Game Scoreboard
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 OT SCORE
New Castle 13 19 8 14 0 54
West Mifflin 21 11 8 7 0 47
Box Scores
WEST MIFFLIN (47)
JaCoiya Vaughn-Reid 1 0-0 2
Monica Poupakis 4 0-0 9
Jessica Pitts 7 2-4 16
Jayla Leftwich 4 2-4 10
Taylor Fulton 2 1-2 6
Jazmyne Hayes 1 2-2 4
Thea Lucas 0 0-0 0.
Totals: 19 7-12 47.

NEW CASTLE (54)
Jazelle Dennis 0 6-8 6
Shelby Rodgers 3 0-0 8
LaShauna Brothers 8 3-9 19
JaNia McPhatter 4 2-3 10
Kaylynn Waters 2 2-2 6
Ashley DeHass 0 0-0 0
Lynette Fish 0 2-2 2
Zynieckia Bester 1 0-0 3.
Totals: 18 15-24 54.

WEST MIFFLIN 21 11 8 7 — 47
NEW CASTLE 13 19 8 14 — 54

3-point goals — West Mifflin 2 (Poupakis 1, Fulton 1), New Castle (Rodgers 2, Bester 1).
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