New Castle secures WPIAL playoff berth
New Castle (66) Vs. Beaver (43)
By RON PONIEWASZ JR.
The New Castle High boys basketball team had to battle just to make the playoffs last year.
The Red Hurricane didn’t secure the postseason berth until the final night of section play, en route to a 6-14 regular-season finish.
That was last year.
Corey Eggleston and Shawn Anderson netted 19 points each to lift New Castle to a 66-43 WPIAL Section 2-AAA victory last night at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House. The ’Canes, ranked No. 3 in the WPIAL in Class AAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, secured a district playoff spot as well.
The win gives the ’Canes (7-1 section, 12-5 overall), a one-game lead over Blackhawk (6-2, 11-6), which was idle, with four section games to play. New Castle owns a 74-58 verdict over the Cougars.
“We never talk about playoffs,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “We just now started to subtly talk about what is ahead of us. Our goal as a staff is to keep these kids very goal-oriented, day to day.
“Whatever is next, just keep yourself focused on that. We just try to look at what is directly in front of us.”
Eggleston, a junior, played a large role in last year’s late-season run to the postseason. He was 7 of 14 from the field against the Bobcats (3-6, 6-10) with five rebounds and four assists.
“Coach put that determination in our head before the season started,” Eggleston said of the playoffs. “In the summer, he installed that in our head that it was our goal to make it to the playoffs.
“That’s only one of three steps: playoffs, section and WPIAL (championship). Once he installed that, we knew that’s our goal and where we wanted to get to.”
Anderson, a sophomore who played in just eight games last year, was 6 of 11 from the floor and a team-best 10 rebounds against Beaver.
“As a freshman last year, I watched the varsity team fight hard,” Anderson said. “This year, I think we were more serious from the start. We knew we had to win early and get some wins on the road.”
Anderson’s bucket with 5:05 left in the first quarter gave New Castle the lead for good at 10-8 and the hosts built the buffer to 15-9 after one stanza.
The ’Canes took their largest lead of the half at 25-15 with 2:38 before the Bobcats cut it to 26-20 with 1:52 left. Anderson drained a pair of foul shots for a 28-20 halftime bulge after breezing to a 66-46 win in the first meeting.
“I think we were just anxious,” Blundo said of the first half. “I think our kids felt like they were good enough to put it on them. But Beaver is a good basketball team. They’re strong, physical, shoot it well and they have some size.
“We were just a little bit impatiently defensively.”
Anderson helped the ’Canes come out with more intensity in the second half. He netted 10 of his points in the third quarter as New Castle built a 53-33 lead after three quarters.
“Shawn got us going early,” Blundo said. “He actually didn’t play a great first half for Shawn. But we challenged him at halftime.
“They know they can play better and more passionate basketball and they did and the third quarter showed that.”
Eggleston tallied 12 of his points in the second half.
“We all know how hard each other plays and we know how hard we can push each other to play,” Eggleston said. “That’s what we did in the second half and it worked.”
New Castle, winners of four straight, returns to action at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Central Valley (6-3, 9-6) in section action. The Warriors handed the ’Canes their lone section defeat, 72-51. Central Valley lost to West Allegheny last night, 60-43.
“We’re not too worried about them getting beat,” Eggleston said of Central Valley. “We just want to go out and play hard and keep our streak going.”