Waters’ big shot helps New Castle escape
New Castle (43) Vs. Mercyhurst Prep (42)
By RON PONIEWASZ JR.
AMBRIDGE — Whew!
The breeze felt Saturday was New Castle High girls basketball fans letting out a collective sigh of relief at the latest brush with a playoff defeat.
The Lady ’Canes trailed by 10 points three times in the first half before rallying for a 43-42 victory over Mercyhurst Prep in the first round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs at Ambridge High School. Kaylynn Waters capped the comeback with a driving layup with 5.7 seconds remaining.
“I give our girls a lot of credit. They kept battling and wouldn’t quit,” first-year New Castle coach Jason Rankin said. “That was a motion play Kaylynn hit the winning basket with.
“It’s not designed for anybody. It’s just if you see it, take it and she did. It was a great play by Kaylynn.”
The Lady Lakers’ Autumn Anderson missed a 14-foot jumper from the right side as the horn sounded to preserve New Castle’s win.
Comebacks are becoming a theme of the New Castle High girls basketball team. The Lady ’Canes (22-3), ranked No. 3 in Class AAA in the state poll by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, trailed by 19 points in the WPIAL championship game before rallying past Hopewell.
“The last couple of games we were down, we weren’t ready,” Waters said. “We came out flat.
“When we saw that (Mercyhurst Prep) could score, we fought our way back.”
Waters recorded a team-high 15 points.
New Castle will meet Indiana (22-2), a 75-53 victor over Sharon, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Butler High School. The Lady ’Canes disposed of the Lady Little Indians in the WPIAL semifinals, 58-45.
The Lady ’Canes trailed 35-28 after three quarters and 40-33 with 5:36 to go. New Castle scored the next eight points to take its first lead at 41-40 with 1:09 to play on a bucket by Ja’Nia McPhatter.
“That’s New Castle, that always seems to happen to us,” said McPhatter of trailing the whole game. “We seem to get motivated when we’re behind, even though it’s not good to always fall behind.”
The Lady Lakers appeared content to try and kill the clock during the run after Waters’ field goal with 3:50 left cut the deficit to 40-37. Mercyhurst Prep passed the ball around, sometimes bypassing a high-percentage field goal attempt.
“We just wanted to limit their possessions,” Mercyhurst coach Dan Perfetto said. “We felt we needed to slow the pace down a little, but maybe we got a little too tentative.
“We thought since we had a three-point lead and the next foul would put us in the one-and-one, we wanted to take our chances with that.”
Mercyhurst Prep (22-5) had an opportunity to interrupt the pivotal run, but Ally Burke missed a pair of free throws with 2:16 left and her team clinging to a 40-37 lead.
“You never look back at one play, especially in a one-point game,” Perfetto said. “Those shots could have swung the momentum back to us a little.”
Waters buried two foul shots for the Lady ’Canes to close to 40-39 with 1:54 remaining. New Castle stole an errant Lady Lakers pass and McPhatter was driving in to give the Lady ’Canes their first lead on a layup.
However, McPhatter was whistled for a charge and the basket was waved off with 1:48 left.
“I didn’t think it was a charge and I didn’t let it get me down,” McPhatter said. “It just pumped me up and I was going to play 10 times harder after that.”
Nursing a one-point lead, Lindsay Stamp threw the ball away with 1:28 remaining. McPhatter wouldn’t be denied this time, giving New Castle its first lead at 41-40 with a field goal in the lane with 69 seconds to play.
“Coach said to just keep getting to the basket,” McPhatter said.
Anderson gave Mercyhurst Prep its last lead at 42-41 with 48 seconds to go when she rebounded a Burke miss underneath and converted the bucket. Burke had two shots from down low roll off the rim before Anderson finished. Anderson notched a game-best 18 markers, most coming in the paint.
The sequence epitomized New Castle’s afternoon, constantly getting beat on the defensive glass. The Lady Lakers held a 29-23 edge overall in rebounding.
“It has to change on the idea that LaShauna (Brothers) and Ja’Nia have to get all the rebounds for us,” Rankin said. “We’re playing good defense. We’re defending and we’re doing what we need to do. But you’ve got to top it off with a rebound.”
Brothers missed a runner on the next trip for the Lady ’Canes and they were forced to foul right away. Amanda Berchtold missed the front-end of a one-and-one with just under 30 seconds to go and the Lady ’Canes got the crucial rebound.
New Castle set up the winning play, and Waters drove in on the left side and put the ball off the glass for the game-winner.
“Coach called a play and it broke down,” Waters said. “I knew I had to drive in so I just took it in.
“I thought I traveled, there were three people I had to go between. I thought I took an extra step, but I didn’t.”
Perfetto called a full timeout to set up an attempt at a game-winner, and Rankin countered with a timeout of his own before the ball was inbounded.
Mercyhurst Prep’s Kayla Wilwohl inbounded the ball without pressure and she tossed it in to Berchtold. Berchtold caught the pass in traffic and headed up the floor, dribbling along the sideline. She passed the ball over Brothers to Anderson, who fired a 14-footer on the right side at the buzzer. Her shot hit the back of the iron and New Castle celebrated, while the Lady Lakers stood in disbelief.
“We knew we had enough time on the clock,” Perfetto said. “We thought we could get up the floor quick and either get to the basket or kick it out for a jumper.
“It’s hard to know that you did have the lead the whole game and lose. We had ourselves in a position to win the game. Hopefully it’s something we’ll learn from.”
New Castle trailed by 10 points (17-7, 19-9 and 21-11) in the first half before settling on a 23-17 halftime deficit. Berchtold closed the opening half when she drove through the Lady ’Canes’ defense for a layup at the buzzer.
“That basket she made at the end of the half, that was worth six points,” Rankin said. “Four points on the scoreboard means you’re right there. Six points means two 3s, but we weren’t making shots so six points meant three possessions.”
Brothers and McPhatter tossed in 11 points each for the Lady ’Canes. McPhatter recorded seven rebounds and three assists, while Brothers added six boards and four assists.
McPhatter was playing with a heavy heart after her father Jake was involved in a motorcycle accident Wednesday morning. He returned home from a Pittsburgh hospital yesterday.
“Dad’s doing OK; I had to step up and do it for him,” McPhatter said. “Me and my sister (Ki’Ria) said we were going to do it for dad so he gets better.”
Said Rankin, “I hope Jake has a full recovery. He’s a great guy and for her to come out and be focused and do the things she did, it shows a lot of heart. I give credit to Ja’Nia because it’s hard to focus through something like that.”