Lady ’Canes cruise to win
New Castle (53) Vs. Laurel Highlands (29)
By RON PONIEWASZ JR.
PITTSBURGH — It took about a quarter for the New Castle High girls basketball team to get going last night.
Once the Lady ’Canes put it in gear, though, there was no stopping them.
LaShauna Brothers and Ja’Nia McPhatter combined for 40 points in pacing New Castle to a 53-29 win over Laurel Highlands in a WPIAL Class AAA first-round playoff game at Fox Chapel.
The win recorded the third consecutive 20-win season for New Castle (20-3) and seventh in the last eight years.
The two-time defending WPIAL champion Lady ’Canes, who led just 13-9 after one quarter, turned the ball over 22 times. Brothers and McPhatter helped New Castle stretch its lead to 28-16 at the break, scoring all but five of the team’s points in the opening half.
“I didn’t expect us to be crisp, but I didn’t expect us to have many turnovers,” New Castle coach Jason Rankin said. “We’ve been in this position before. The opposition is going to get stronger now.”
The second-seeded Lady ’Canes will battle seventh-seeded West Mifflin, a 70-52 victor over South Fayette, tomorrow in the quarterfinals. The winner qualifies for the state playoffs, while the loser still has a shot provided the winner reaches the WPIAL championship game.
“I like the idea we have just one day to prepare,” Rankin said. “Sometimes, if you just play, it doesn’t get into your mind. When you have a lot of time off, you tend to overprepare; hopefully we’ll be ready to play.”
The Lady Titans (17-6) finished second to South Park in Section 4, which was ousted last night by Hopewell. In fact, all four Section 2 schools that reached the playoffs — New Castle, Ambridge, Blackhawk and Hopewell — still are alive.
“I said it all year, this is a great section,” Rankin said. “We played a pretty tough nonleague schedule. Those other three teams were very good teams. It doesn’t surprise me there’s four of us still playing.”
New Castle started strong, racing to a 7-0 lead. But the 18th-seeded Fillies (14-10) battled right back and caught the Lady ’Canes at 9.
“I just think they made some shots,” Rankin said of Laurel Highlands’ ability to play with New Castle early. “We had some breakdowns because some people didn’t rotate because maybe they didn’t know who they were guarding.”
The Lady ’Canes took charge in the second quarter. Brothers scored seven points in the period and McPhatter contributed six.
“We just said we weren’t going to lose,” Brothers said of the second quarter. “We just came out and stepped it up a little bit.
“I thought we kept our heads in the game pretty well and we did what we had to do.”
Brothers netted a game-high 23 points on 10-of-20 shooting. She also had eight rebounds.
McPhatter tossed in 17 markers on 8-of-12 shooting with eight boards.
“We’ve been playing together since about seventh grade; we know how each other plays,” Brothers said of McPhatter and her.
Said Rankin, “LaShauna and Ja’Nia play very well off of each other. They almost have like an energy that they feel. They’re unselfish and they both give us a lot of things.”
Prior to halftime, the Lady ’Canes got a boost off the bench when Christina Talbert entered the game with 2:22 remaining in the second quarter. Talbert, a 5-foot-8 junior guard, ranks second on the team in scoring at 17.1 points a game, just behind Brothers (17.8).
Talbert, regularly a starter, bumped her kneecap against a Butler player in the regular season finale. She was held scoreless, but played the rest of the first half and saw extended minutes in the second half.
“There’s no tear and there was no threat of a tear. It’s a bruise,” Rankin said. “She was more worried about tearing, so we said you just have to play. Things happen. You have to be in a situation where, like any bruise, once it gets past that tendon, you have to start working it. If not, it gets stiff.
“She’s going to have to be able to play (tomorrow) and play a lot better because we’re going to need her. I’m not sure if she will start. Depending on our scheme and what we’re going to do, I expect more minutes from her.”
Brothers said the team fed off Talbert’s presence in the game.
“We were happy to see her play,” Brothers said. “It was great that she was able to get in there.”
New Castle opened the second half on a 10-2 run, prompting Laurel Highlands to call its final timeout with 5:15 remaining in the third period.
“We played well in the second quarter, but we played even harder in the second half,” Brothers said.
Maria Romano pulled down eight rebounds to go along with her six points for the Lady ’Canes and Dana Perrotta recorded seven steals.
“I give those two girls a lot of credit,” Rankin said. “I’m really impressed with how they played for us.”
New Castle forced 33 turnovers, while shooting 23 of 59.
“I thought we played well defensively and we got in the passing lanes,” Rankin said. “That made a big difference.”
Marissa Erminio posted a team-high 12 points for Laurel Highlands, which was just 9 of 42 from the floor.