’Canes survive Valentic, Trinity
New Castle (54) Vs. Trinity (51)
By RON PONIEWASZ JR.
WEXFORD — Whew!
The New Castle High boys basketball team had a brush with elimination last night.
The Red Hurricane led by five points over Trinity in the final 20 seconds of a WPIAL Class AAA first-round playoff game at North Allegheny High School. But the lead wasn’t safe.
A basket by the Hillers with 11 seconds to go and a turnover gave Trinity sharpshooter Josh Valentic one final chance to send the game into overtime.
Clang. A welcome sound for New Castle.
Valentic’s 3-pointer with three seconds left hit off the iron as time ran out, preserving the ’Canes’ 54-51 victory.
Valentic came in as the second-leading scorer in the WPIAL, regardless of classification, at 30 points a game. Valentic, who will play collegiately at NCAA Division II Wheeling Jesuit, torched the nets for a game-best 32 markers.
“We turn it over and they got a good look,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “Valentic is a great player and for all intents and purposes, and I told him this, he deserved to make a shot like that after the career he had.
“That ball was loose and all of our guys were in there fighting for their life. Just enough time ran off for us to win the game.”
It was the ’Canes’ first WPIAL playoff victory since a 72-54 first-round win over Belle Vernon in 2009.
Fourth-seeded New Castle (17-6) advances to meet Section 2-AAA rival and 12th-seeded Central Valley (14-8) tomorrow. The teams split the season series, with the Warriors winning on the ’Canes’ home floor, 72-51. New Castle returned the favor later in the year at Central Valley, 70-60.
Foul shooting was an issue throughout the game for New Castle. At one point, the ’Canes were just 2 for 6 before making five of their final six to finish 7 of 12.
Leading 50-46, New Castle junior Corey Eggleston misfired on the front end of a one-and-one with 48 seconds to play. But Shawn Anderson came up with a clutch steal with 36 seconds remaining and was fouled with 34.8 left. Anderson calmly drained both freebies for a 52-46 buffer.
“It’s almost what you live for as a basketball player,” Anderson said of the opportunity at the foul line. “It’s the moment you want. We’ve worked so hard to get there and it paid off.
“We were just a little nervous. The fans were screaming and it was a crazy environment. We just have to take that next step to practice and be mature; take our time with our free throws.”
Anderson, a sophomore, paced New Castle with 23 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 5 of 5 at the foul line. He also snared a team-high 11 rebounds.
Valentic made sure Trinity (15-9) still had life, burying a 3-pointer with 25 seconds left. The 13th-seeded Hillers quickly called their final timeout immediately after the basket.
Trinity chased after the speedy Brandon Domenick after he crossed midcourt and fouled him. Domenick, who was 0 for 2 at the stripe up to that point, converted both for a 54-49 advantage.
“These kids believe in themselves,” Blundo said. “We talk about getting to that next play, and forgetting about the last two free throws.
“Brandon made two huge free throws, as did Shawn. To win games in the playoffs, that’s what you have to do.”
Jared Deep converted a field goal for Trinity with 11 seconds left to set up the Hillers’ final possession off a steal.
“Just getting a shot at the end was remarkable,” Trinity coach Joe Dunn said of Valentic’s last attempt. “What happened at the end is not something you design. It just shows you the character our team had at the end.”
New Castle, which led 17-10 after one quarter, built a 29-19 halftime bulge behind Anderson and Eggleston. The duo tallied six points apiece in the second period. Eggleston followed Anderson’s effort with 14 markers on 7-of-15 shooting with four steals.
The ’Canes came out sluggish in the second half, though. Trinity went on a 16-5 run to take its first lead since 3-0 at 35-34 with 3:34 to play in the third period. It also was the last lead for the Hillers.
“We weren’t ready,” Anderson said of the early stages of the third quarter. “We were a step behind. I think that’s another step we have to mature in.”
That’s when Eggleston came forward.
“Corey, being our leader with the most experience, he said ‘come on guys, this isn’t Red Hurricane basketball. Step it up a little bit,’ ” Anderson said. “I think we responded to that really well.”
Said Blundo, “We just challenged them in a timeout. Really at that point in time it was about what’s in our heart, we just have to dig in. It was an unbelievable effort and desire and focus over the last 12 minutes of the game. Trinity didn’t go away, either.”
Trailing by one point, Domenick missed a pair of foul shots. But ’Canes freshman Malik Hooker raced in and grabbed the rebound and Domenick made up for the free-throw misses by nailing a 3-pointer for a 37-35 lead with 2:11 left in the third.
Domenick’s trifecta sparked a 9-0 run to close the third quarter and New Castle boasted a 43-35 heading to the fourth.
Domenick recorded 10 points and nine assists for the ’Canes.
New Castle was 21 of 57 from the floor, including just 5 of 27 from behind the arc. However, the ’Canes forced 22 turnovers while turning it over just six times.
“When you don’t shoot it well, you better get yourself some extra possessions and we did that,” Blundo said.