Blackhawk rallies to edge ’Canes
Blackhawk (52) Vs. New Castle (50)
By JOE SAGER
It may have been the weekend, but school was in session Saturday at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House.
Both the Blackhawk and New Castle boys basketball squads acquired some knowledge, too, in the Cougars’ 52-50 WPIAL Section 2-AAA victory.
Blackhawk found it could rally from a 13-point deficit to start a fourth quarter, while the Red Hurricane got hands-on experience in learning how to handle a furious comeback and high-pressure defense.
New Castle struggled to handle the Cougars’ aggressive trapping defense as Blackhawk (6-2 overall) quickly whittled away the ’Canes’ double-digit lead in the final stanza and escaped with the victory to remain atop the section standings at 3-0. New Castle (2-9) remains one game out of the section cellar at 1-3.
“One thing we haven’t seen that we could do yet is come back, and, we did. Whether we won or not, we saw we could come back. Fortunately for us, we were on the winning side of it,” Blackhawk coach Andy Hedrick said. “I know, right now, New Castle’s record isn’t what they want it to be, but their schedule is unbelievable with all the teams they’ve played. So, to come here and get a win — it’s nice.
“This is a very tough place to play. I thought New Castle played well for three quarters. At the end, our guys did what they needed to do. We’re very lucky to come out of here with a win.”
It was a frustrating loss for the young ’Canes, who started three sophomores. They played well for the first three quarters, but had a complete meltdown in the fourth quarter.
“Blackhawk picked up its pressure and we didn’t take care of the ball. In about a two-minute and span, instead of the lead being 10 or 12, it was down to six and now the game is on. We have to take care of the basketball,” New Castle coach Mark Stanley said.
“Everyone says you learn just as much from a loss, but I think we could have learned a lot from a win, too. We just have to get better. I call it baptism by fire. We have kids who haven’t been in that fire before. Now, we’ve seen it and we’ve been in the fire. You’re going to have growing pains along the way and this is a big growing pain.”
The guests posted a 14-11 edge after one quarter, but New Castle used a 20-point second stanza to carry a 31-21 lead into halftime. The ’Canes added to that in the third and built a 43-30 advantage at the buzzer.
Heading into the fourth, Hedrick upped the defensive pressure and told his players to focus on chipping away at that deficit, rather than panicking and trying to get it all back at once.
“If we got it down to five or six with four minutes left, it’s a game again. You can’t look at the lead, being down by 13, since we had some time,” said the relieved Blackhawk coach. “I thought we remained focused because it was a gradual comeback over time. It’s a big win for us — a very big win.”
New Castle hoped to add to its lead, but turnovers and missed opportunities plagued the hosts. The ’Canes did not make a field goal for the first 5:41 of the fourth quarter.
“Two things can happen (with the pressure defense). If you’re handling it, you make a couple good passes and you’re laying it in and you really hurt the pressure. Or, it goes the other way and it hurts you. As you get older, you just learn how to handle the ball and handle those situations,” Stanley said. “Instead of our lead being down to six in the first couple minutes, it should have been 12-15. We just didn’t make the plays to extend that lead.”
Blackhawk completed its comeback and took a 47-46 lead with 3:11 remaining in the game on Tim Denman’s steal and layup. The contest remained close into the waning seconds.
Corey Eggleston split a pair of free throws with 38.5 seconds remaining to give the ’Canes a 50-49 lead. However, the Cougars’ Tyler Damazo drew a foul with 10.6 seconds to go. He swished his first freebie to knot the game, but missed the second. He was able to grab his own rebound and drained a go-ahead shot with 7.3 seconds to play.
New Castle had a chance to tie or win the game, but a shot at the buzzer fell short to foil the upset bid.
“They’re as good as anyone in the section. It’s at home and it’s one you wanted to have,” Stanley said. “It was a good game and the kids played hard. I don’t fault the kids for how they played because they played hard. They don’t want to lose either. I just hope we learn from this.”
Dustin Pringle tallied a game-high 19 points for Blackhawk. Cory Ostach added 15.
Eggleston paced a balance ’Canes attack with 13 points. Marquale May had 11 and Marcus Carter added 10.