Rusty Lady ’Canes good enough to win
New Castle (66) Vs. Laurel Highlands (41)
By RON PONIEWASZ JR.
PITTSBURGH — The layoff was evident in the New Castle High girls basketball team’s performance last night.
It wasn’t enough, though, to prevent the Lady ’Canes from winning.
New Castle committed 29 turnovers and missed at least five shots under the basket. But the Lady ’Canes shook off the miscues to roll to a 66-41 win over Laurel Highlands in the opening-round of the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs at North Hills High School.
It was the first game for the Lady ’Canes since a 78-40 win over Ellwood City Lincoln on Feb. 12.
“I knew we would be rusty,” said first-year New Castle coach Jason Rankin. “We are creatures of habit. We play every two or three days and when you do that for three months, all of a sudden you don’t play for 12 days, you’re bound to be rusty.
“A scrimmage is a scrimmage. You don’t play to win, you play to see some things. Without that habit of playing, this is what a team is capable of.”
New Castle (18-3), the defending WPIAL Class AAA champion, had a bye. The Fillies were coming off a 62-42 win over Elizabeth Forward in a preliminary-round game on Saturday.
“Everyone says a bye is great. Guess what. You’re not playing,” Rankin said. “We had stretches where we played three games in five days.
“I’m disappointed with some things they did. You’re never happy. There’s nobody that looks for more perfection from them than I do. But I was happy with some things, too.”
The Lady ’Canes, seeded No. 2 and ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL in Class AAA, will meet Hampton in the quarterfinals at 3 p.m. Saturday at North Allegheny High School. New Castle owns a 67-52 win over the Section 1-AAA champion Lady Talbots (16-7) in the regular season.
“I told the girls after the game, ‘do not think that we already lead by 15 points when you get there Saturday. They’re going to come to play,’ ” Rankin said. “They do what they do and they do it well.”
New Castle’s Kaylynn Waters poured in a game-high 24 points against Laurel Highlands. The 24 points is a playoff career high for Waters, a sophomore.
“I played OK, I could have done better defensively and I could have made more layups, but I’m not perfect,” Waters said. “Missing those easy ones are the shots that will get me down. I was able to overcome it and still fight through it.”
Waters netted seven of her points in the first quarter as the Lady ’Canes, who never trailed, built a 15-6 lead after one quarter. In fact, Waters’ seven points came in a 13-0 run to open the contest.
“That strong start was big from Kaylynn,” Rankin said. “She’s deceptively bigger and she’s got great moves when she puts it on the floor.
“I thought she played a great game. She will mention the layups she missed because she’s such a perfectionist. But she did a lot of other great things for us; she continues to shine.”
Waters was 11 of 24 from the field with six rebounds.
“I wanted to come out strong and I wanted to leave everything that was in the past, in the past,” Waters said. “I wanted to get a fresh start now that the playoffs have started.”
The Fillies struggled offensively, turning the ball over 36 times while hitting just 17 of 53 shots. They were also 7 of 24 from the foul line.
“I was happy with the trapping defense. I wasn’t happy with how we defended,” Rankin said. “We have a variety of trapping defenses and we eventually pick the one that’s working the best for us. That halfcourt trap was working the best for us.”
The Lady ’Canes led 37-18 at the break, but came out sluggish in the third quarter. They turned the ball over five times and missed several shots in the paint.
“I wanted us to go hard for four minutes in the third quarter and knock them out, but they were able to hang around until the fourth quarter,” Rankin said. “We weren’t able to cash in on some easy baskets, and there was a stretch between the seven-minute mark and the three-minute mark that we looked out of sorts.”
New Castle regrouped late in the third period to build a 50-29 advantage heading to the fourth.
JaNia McPhatter tossed in 15 points for the Lady ’Canes on 7-of-16 shooting, while snaring a game-best 13 rebounds. Christina Talbert chipped in with 13 markers, going 6 of 8 from the field. She added seven assists and six steals.
New Castle was 29 of 73 from the floor.
Sam Lee notched 14 points for Laurel Highlands. Bethany Mehall, who sprained her ankle against Elizabeth Forward and was a game-time decision, got the start and tallied four markers.
“Lee played well; she’s quick and fearless,” Rankin said. “I was surprised Mehall played. She’s a senior, maybe she wanted to go out and compete. You have to give her credit.”
New Castle’s LaShauna Brothers, a junior starter, came off the bench because of disciplinary reasons. Zynieckia Bester replaced Brothers in the starting lineup. Brothers notched six points and six boards before fouling out with 4:01 to play.
“It’s internal stuff we have to deal with,” Rankin said of Brothers’ benching. “She’s still young and I love her to death, but rules are rules.”