’Canes top Center, stay alive for playoffs
New Castle (67) Vs. Central Valley (55)
By RON PONIEWASZ JR.
The New Castle High boys basketball team continues to survive.
Corey Eggleston led a balanced Red Hurricane attack with 16 points in a 67-55 WPIAL Section 2-AAA victory over Center last night at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House.
New Castle (4-7 section, 5-14 overall) has been on the brink of elimination for most of the second half of section play. But a two-game section losing streak by Ambridge (4-7, 10-9) has the ’Canes thinking playoffs.
“The kids had a lot of energy tonight and they were anxious to get after it,” New Castle coach Mark Stanley said. “They haven’t quit. They’ve played hard this whole time.”
New Castle is tied for the fourth and final playoff spot with Ambridge. However, the Bridgers own the tiebreaker because they swept the season series. The ’Canes must beat Ellwood City Lincoln on the road tonight and have Blackhawk knock off Ambridge for New Castle to secure the final postseason berth. A Wolverines win or a Bridgers win would eliminate New Castle.
“Ellwood plays hard all the time,” Stanley said. “That will be an intense game. If we can get after it and take care of our business, then we’ll turn our attention to a score from the Blackhawk-Ambridge game and hope for the best.”
Ellwood City’s last win over New Castle was a 53-49 verdict on Jan. 15, 1992 on its home floor.
New Castle’s win over Center also eliminated Ellwood City Lincoln (3-8, 7-13) from the playoff picture. The WPIAL takes the top four teams to the playoffs and if there is a three-way tie for fourth place, the overall record of the three teams head-to-head-to-head is determined the tiebreaker. New Castle is 1-2 against Ambridge and Ellwood City, while the Bridgers have a 3-1 mark. The Wolverines are 1-2 against New Castle and Ambridge, thus eliminating them from the equation.
Center (9-2, 14-5), competing in the school’s final year before merging with Monaca to form Central Valley next year, squandered a chance to secure its first section title since 1983. The Trojans are in a three-way tie for first with Hopewell (9-2, 15-6) and Blackhawk (9-2, 13-7). There are no tiebreakers for the section crown. All teams tied for first place at the end of section play will be declared section champions.
“It’s disappointing to not win the section championship,” Trojans coach Mark Jula said. “It’s been a long time since that’s been done here and it would be special.
“It’s always fun to come here; they take their basketball seriously here. There’s a lot of tradition here and we knew it wouldn’t be easy to get a win.”
New Castle trailed just once, at 1-0. Marquale May’s 3-pointer gave the ’Canes the lead for good at 3-1 with 6:08 left in the first quarter. May bucketed seven of his 12 points in the opening frame as New Castle held a 12-9 lead after one quarter.
“Marquale has been shooting the ball well,” Stanley said. “The guys are getting him some looks and he’s taking advantage of it.
“He got us off the mark with that big 3-pointer early.”
The ’Canes carried a 28-17 buffer into halftime, their biggest lead of the half. Corey Eggleston scored four of the team’s six points during a 6-0 run to close the half.
“They’re hard for us to match up with,” Jula said. “They’ve got some speed. At the end of the quarters, they spread the floor out and got what they wanted.
“I give them credit, they did a nice job of spreading us out.”
New Castle has struggled delivering the knockout blow in the second half and it appeared that trend would continue last night. Center forced nine turnovers in third period and trimmed the deficit to 36-33 with 2:20 left in the quarter.
“We played a lot harder in the third quarter and created some problems,” Jula said. “We looked like a whole different team on defense.
“In the first half, we didn’t bother anybody defensively. Our defense in the third quarter set us up for some easy shots.”
But the ’Canes closed the quarter strong, going on a 6-0 run for a 42-33 lead after three stanzas.
“Having a lead at the end of the third quarter was so key,” Stanley said. “I thought we played so lousy in the third quarter and we were still up nine so I felt pretty good.”
The Trojans were in a one-and-one with 2:39 left in the third quarter, and the ’Canes didn’t get there until early in the fourth frame.
“We tried to go to the hoop and I thought we did a good job of trying to get there,” Jula said. “They did a good job of bothering us when we got in there.”
Nick Delisio helped the Trojans stay within striking distance. He recorded 15 of his 19 points in the fourth, including a trio of 3-pointers from long range.
“He played great in the fourth quarter, but you have to play great for four quarters,” Jula said. “You can’t forget about three quarters and go hard for one quarter. He didn’t do a whole lot those first three quarters.”
Said Stanley, “Delisio hit some big shots. He kept it close for them. Sometimes your defense is there and they still go in. It’s been that type of year. I thought ‘here we go again.’
Delisio’s third 3-pointer of the quarter cut the ’Canes’ lead to 56-53 with 3:18 to play. But it was as close as Center would get the rest of the way.
Corey Eggleston scored seven of his team-high 16 points in the fourth quarter.
“I figured by having a lead after three quarters we’ll make them guard us man and spread them out,” Stanley said. “Once we got that bigger lead, we were able to hit some foul shots and make some shots to expand it.
“Corey got some penetration and we got some easy looks down low in the fourth.”
Marcus Carter tallied 14 points for the ’Canes and Darrian Rice tossed in 13.
Mike Kupper led all scorers with 25 points for Center. Kupper garnered 15 of his markers in the second half.
“He plays hard all the time; it’s just how he plays,” Jula said of Kupper. “What you saw from him tonight is what you get every night.”
(Question: Why were there no referees on hand as the game was set to start? Ron Poniewasz Jr. has the answer in Friday’s edition of the New Castle News. Be sure to pick up a copy!)