Pivotal win for ’Canes
New Castle (47) Vs. Central Valley (42)
By RON PONIEWASZ JR.
WEXFORD — Anthony Richards is listed as just a freshman on the New Castle High boys basketball team’s roster.
But last night, he played well beyond his years.
Richards buried two 3-pointers to give the Red Hurricane a huge lift en route to a 47-42 victory over Central Valley in a WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal-round matchup at North Allegheny.
The fourth-seeded ’Canes (18-6) advance to the WPIAL semifinals for the first time since 2002 and will battle top-seeded South Fayette (21-1) on Tuesday at a time and site to be determined. The Lions advanced with an 87-58 verdict over Uniontown.
“It hasn’t sunk in just yet, but it will,” ’Canes coach Ralph Blundo said of reaching the semifinals. “To come this far with these kids, and that’s what they are, they’re just kids, shows great character.
“It’s a result of an enormous amount of work that they’ve put in over a long period of time. This was something that was important to them. They worked extremely hard. They won this game tonight, five or six months ago.”
New Castle is ranked No. 5 in the WPIAL in Class AAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Lions are ranked No. 1.
Richards, a 5-foot-8 guard, helped New Castle extend a 29-26 lead after three quarters to 35-26 just 38 seconds into the final frame.
“Those were enormous 3s; it stretched it out just enough for us,” Blundo said. “Anthony is a great shooter. He’s just a freshman, but he’s a great shooter. He’s wise beyond his years.”
New Castle took possession early in the fourth quarter and worked the ball over to Richards, who teed up a 3-pointer from the top of the key, pumping his fists and exciting his teammates and New Castle fans.
The ’Canes stopped the Warriors on their next possession and Richards again had the ball.
“My teammates were looking for me,” Richards said of his 3-pointers. “They just believed in me to make shots and I made them.
“The first one, I was just excited when I made it. The guys saw me hit one 3, then they got the ball to me on the next possession and I hit it again.”
Shawn Anderson kept the roll going with a steal and easy layup and Malik Hooker converted a bucket underneath and the ’Canes’ 10-0 run pushed the buffer to 39-26.
“We needed a little pick-me-up and Anthony came through and got us going,” Blundo said of Richards’ 3-pointers. “That’s what a team is all about, people playing together.”
Hooker cashed in a field goal with 2:31 to play to lift the ’Canes to a 45-31 advantage, their largest lead of the game.
NOT OVER YET
Just when it appeared New Castle was going to coast into the semifinals, Central Valley (14-9) mounted a comeback.
The Warriors ran off 11 straight points to trail 45-42 with 12.5 seconds remaining. Poor foul shooting by the ’Canes aided the Valley rally.
New Castle was just 3 of 9 from the foul line in the game, including 2 of 7 in the fourth quarter. But sophomore Brandon Domenick nailed two critical foul shots with 10.2 seconds remaining and Central Valley out of timeouts, icing the win.
“We forced a couple of turnovers and used a 1-3-1 trap,” Warriors coach Brandon Ambrose said. “New Castle did a real nice job spreading the floor with their four corners.
“Our press gave them a little bit of trouble. But really it wasn’t us forcing turnovers, it was them missing foul shots.”
The game followed an eerily similar pattern to Wednesday’s game, when the ’Canes held off a late Trinity flurry to win, 54-51.
“It’s almost surreal,” Blundo said of the game’s latter stages.
Central Valley was playing without senior guard Michael Kupper, who tore his meniscus late in the regular season. The Warriors also were hindered by foul trouble, making depth an issue. Turley was hit with his fourth foul with 52.7 seconds to go in the third quarter and Curtis Lewis picked up his fourth foul just seven seconds later.
“It was real tough for us,” Ambrose said. “Curtis is a really good guy getting to the basket and he was in and out of the lineup all night.
“We had big plans for Lucas with the gameplan guarding Anderson. He just never got in the flow, spending most of the night on the bench. That also affects your chemistry and offensive sets.”
Said Blundo, “Losing a player like Kupper is multiplied because you lose a player on your bench. They kept grinding and so did we. Fortunately, we just played significantly better with a much higher energy level in the second half.”
Anderson paced New Castle with 13 points and seven rebounds, while Antonio Rudolph added a 10 markers and five boards. Domenick was next with eight points and three rebounds.
Corey Eggleston, averaging a team-best 18.6 points a game, was held to a season-low two points.
“The credit goes to Central Valley,” Blundo said. “We struggled a little bit offensively. They had a very good gameplan on how to guard us and they did some very good things against us.”
Nick Delisio led all scorers with 18 points for Central Valley.
“Nick made some shots. But we were never able to get anyone else in the game offensively,” Ambrose said. “If you hold New Castle to 47 points, you should win. They were just better than us on defense.”