Lady ’Canes earn return trip to WPIAL title game
New Castle (58) Vs. Indiana (45)
By RON PONIEWASZ JR.
PITTSBURGH — The semifinal round has been good to the New Castle High girls basketball team in the WPIAL playoffs.
Indiana has not experienced similar success.
Both of those trends continued Wednesday night at Fox Chapel High School.
LaShauna Brothers fired in 18 points to lead the Lady ’Canes to a 58-45 verdict over the Lady Little Indians in a WPIAL Class AAA semifinal-round battle.
Second-seeded New Castle (20-3), the defending WPIAL Class AAA champion, improved to 4-1 since 2004 in the semifinals. Indiana (21-2) lost its third straight semifinal contest.
“We’re excited to be going back to the championship game,” said first-year coach Jason Rankin. “Indiana gave us a battle and we knew it wouldn’t be easy.”
The Lady ’Canes, ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL in Class AAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, will face Hopewell on Saturday at Duquesne University’s A.J. Palumbo Center. No time has been set. New Castle dropped two games to the Lady Vikings (25-0) in Section 2-AAA action during the regular season.
Top-seeded Hopewell, ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class AAA by the Post-Gazette, is the only team in the WPIAL playoffs regardless of gender or classification to have a perfect record after the regular season. The Lady Vikings’ wins over the Lady ’Canes came by a combined three points.
“That was upsetting,” said Brothers, a junior, of the two section losses to Hopewell. “The third time is the charm. We’re going to show them who the defending champs really are. WPIAL championships are a tradition at New Castle.”
Kaylynn Waters, a sophomore who contributed 11 markers, also is determined to avenge those two losses to the Lady Vikings.
“I’m excited, but until we win it, that’s when I’ll really be excited,” Waters said. “We know we’re a better team than Hopewell. We just have to come together as a team.”
Indiana and New Castle came in with potent offenses, averaging more than 60 points per game apiece. Neither team disappointed in the opening quarter.
Brothers netted seven of her points in the first stanza as the Lady ’Canes built an 18-14 advantage after one period. She also pulled down seven rebounds to go along with three steals.
“It’s no surprise the first quarter was that way,” Rankin said. “Indiana is very offensively skilled. They have a lot of experience and I knew they would be ready for a game like this.
“We ran a lot of sets for Brothers. We knew they would play behind her and that would give her the chance to make a lot of good moves. She stayed with it.”
The Lady Little Indians went on an 8-2 run to take a 22-20 buffer, their first lead since 2-0, with 5:41 to play in the opening half. Leslie Stapleton had four of the points during the run for Indiana. She finished with a team-best 16 markers.
“She scores so many different ways,” Rankin said of Stapleton. “She cuts to the basket really well.”
The teams traded field goals, before Marita Mathe split a pair of foul shots for Indiana. JaNia McPhatter returned the favor on the other end for the Lady ’Canes to knot the count at 25 with 2:25 to go.
“Indiana is tough; they’re not an easy team to beat,” McPhatter said. “They kept battling us.”
With 14 seconds left in the half, Waters put New Castle up for good at 28-25 with a 3-pointer. Waters had to dance out of the way of a referee, nearly stepping on his foot twice.
Indiana tried to answer on the other end, but Waters partially blocked a buzzer-beating attempt as the Lady ’Canes preserved the buffer at the break.
“That 3-pointer was huge,” Rankin said. “It almost looked like the referee knocked it out of her hand before she shot it.
Said Waters, “I was open so I put up the shot. It gave us pretty good momentum at halftime.”
Despite leading at the break, New Castle was outrebounded, 19-13. Indiana also outrebounded the Lady ’Canes for the game, 35-29.
“The rebounding was killing us,” Brothers said. “They were getting to all the loose balls. We knew we had to get in there and stop their penetration and get those boards.”
New Castle started to take control in the third quarter. The Lady ’Canes opened a 41-31 lead on two straight field goals by Christina Talbert, who finished with 13 points and four steals. Desiree Cavalancia sank two foul shots to close the third quarter when she was fouled by Brothers.
McPhatter, who contributed 11 points, 10 rebounds and four steals, staked the Lady ’Canes to a 48-37 margin with 4:58 to go. But Indiana battled back, using a 6-0 run in a 48-second span to close to 48-43. Stapleton missed a turnaround in the lane with 3:25 to play that could have cut the deficit to three markers.
The Lady Little Indians used a zone press to get back in the game, forcing four turnovers in a three-minute stretch.
“That’s something we haven’t seen,” Rankin said of the defense. “But their success with it is also something that may have been because of our fatigue.”
New Castle put the game away with a 9-0 run for a 57-43 edge with 1:19 to go. Waters netted four of the points during the spurt.
The Lady ’Canes were 22 of 45 from the field, compared to 15 of 62 for the Lady Little Indians.
(Don't forget to check out a special Fan Cam feature from Wednesday night's game.)