Lady 'Canes fall in OT thriller
Hopewell (64) Vs. New Castle (62)
By RON PONIEWASZ JR.
Time stood still Monday night at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House.
A Wilson basketball made its rounds after the horn sounded.
Backboard. Front rim. Backboard again. Around the rim and then rolling off harmlessly to the floor.
Ten players representing the New Castle and Hopewell high girls basketball teams watched as Christina Talbert’s shot fell off at the buzzer in overtime. The errant shot enabled the Lady Vikings to escape with a 64-62 WPIAL Section 2-AAA win in overtime.
The play triggered a Hopewell celebration as members of the bench raced out on the floor to celebrate. The Lady ’Canes could only watch in dejection.
An estimated crowd of 2,000 attended the game as both teams donned pink uniforms in the first Par for the Cure Pink-Out Game.
“I thought this was a WPIAL championship atmosphere,” said first-year New Castle coach Jason Rankin. “It got to a point that they couldn’t hear us. It was just one of those things that every play that was made you could really hear the crowd.
“We need to learn from this and we need to learn that we need to stay on the same page and not waste one thing.”
The victory secured the section title outright for Hopewell (9-0 section, 20-0 overall), which is ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class AAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
New Castle (7-2, 16-3), the No. 2 team in the WPIAL in Class AAA by the Post-Gazette, is the defending section and WPIAL champion. The Lady ’Canes will enter the WPIAL playoffs as the section’s second-place team, with Blackhawk taking third and Ambridge fourth.
“The bottom line is we didn’t do what we needed to do; they outplayed us and they deserve the section title,” Rankin said.
Hopewell won the first meeting, 48-47, when JaNia McPhatter’s turnaround jumper on the baseline bounced off the rim as time expired. That time, the Lady ’Canes had to navigate the length of the floor with 3.3 seconds to play.
Last night, McPhatter, who tallied 18 markers, sank a field goal in the lane with six seconds left to help Ne-Ca-Hi close to 63-62. Rankin immediately called timeout with 5.5 seconds to go. The Lady ’Canes hesitated on a foul attempt, finally succeeding with 3.2 ticks left.
Paige Alviani, who bucketed a game-best 30 markers, including nine of the Lady Vikings’ 11 in overtime, was fouled. Alviani buried the second attempt.
“She’s our best foul shooter; she’s definitely the girl I want on the line in that situation,” Hopewell coach Jeff Homziak said.
Alviani did her damage in the extra session by penetrating the New Castle defense and converting layups.
“I was really disappointed with our guard play defensively,” Rankin said. “Both of their kids out front are very good offensive players, but they looked like they were playing against seventh-graders.
“Running down the floor, penetrating and shooting layups. That was disappointing, I thought we had more quickness than that.”
New Castle inbounded the ball and Talbert quickly dribbled up the floor. She stopped just behind the arc and launched a 3-pointer ahead of the buzzer. The ball found every part of the rim and backboard before falling to the ground.
“Christina is very fast with the ball. I wasn’t surprised that she got that far in that short of time,” Rankin said. “They didn’t want to foul, up just two. It was a tough shot and a long shot.
“It all played out perfectly for us. Alviani split the free throws, making the second so we didn’t have to scramble for a rebound. We got everything we wanted — the shot just didn’t go in.”
Said Homziak, “Talbert had a clean look. Obviously, we didn’t want to foul. That ball was down twice and that second time through it looked like it was going down. I thought it was going in. Someone up above helped us and it rolled back out. It took my breath away.”
The Lady ’Canes held a 51-45 lead with 2:39 to go in regulation when Kaylynn Waters connected on a field goal. Waters, a sophomore averaging more than 18 points a game, was held to nine, equaling her season low.
“They put a bigger player on her, which took away her 3-point shot,” Rankin said of Hopewell neutralizing Waters. “She became our own worst enemy by not going very hard.
“The next step has to be when other teams target you as a player to stop, you have to find other ways to get to the rack and create shots. She shoots about 75 percent from the line and she didn’t attempt any free throws.”
Homziak noted his team’s attention on Waters.
“They’re multi-faceted,” he said. “You have to pick your poison with who you are going to match up with. (Waters) is a great shooter.”
The Lady Vikings went on a 6-0 run to tie the game at 51 with 1:21 remaining. Shatori Walker-Kimbrough tied the game at 53 with 20.5 seconds left when she rebounded Alviani’s miss in the lane and converted a layup.
New Castle had the final possession. Rankin burned a timeout with 13.3 seconds left when his team crossed midcourt. He exhausted the final timeout with 3.8 seconds to play when his team looked out of sorts running a play. New Castle, which was in possession just outside the 3-point arc on Hopewell’s end of the floor, still couldn’t muster a good shot, leading to Zynieckia Bester’s desperation halfcourt shot at the buzzer falling short.
“That was definitely a wasted possession,” Rankin said. “The player we wanted to get the ball to wasn’t open and that was the whole night for us.
“They played harder than we did. They’re more mature. They do what it takes and nobody backs down on that team. That’s senior leadership. I think we have more overall physical talent, but physical talent doesn’t win games. A lot of heart and desire does and that’s what they have.”
LaShauna Brothers, who battled foul trouble, led the Lady ’Canes with 23 points on 10-of-19 shooting. She also added seven steals and seven rebounds.
Elise Farris chipped in with 17 markers and 15 rebounds for the Lady Vikings.