Injured Brothers leads Lady ’Canes
New Castle (59) Vs. West Mifflin (45)
By JOE SAGER
WEXFORD — The biggest obstacle for the New Castle High girls basketball team might not be another opponent.
Injuries are doing their best to derail the Lady ’Canes’ drive for a third-straight WPIAL Class AAA title.
LaShauna Brothers is the latest New Castle player to experience health issues. Despite a sore leg, she tallied a game-high 27 points Saturday to lead the Lady ’Canes to a 59-45 win over West Mifflin in a WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal at North Allegheny.
Early on, New Castle’s Rachael Razzano and Kaylynn Waters were both lost for the season with knee injuries. The Lady ’Canes wounded list grew as Christina Talbert bruised her knee Feb. 14, while Brothers experienced leg soreness in a Friday practice and was noticeably hobbled Saturday. Brothers was able to battle through her soreness and so was Talbert, who made her first start Saturday since her injury and added 13 points in the win.
New Castle, which secured a berth in the PIAA playoffs as well, hopes both players are fully healthy for Wednesday’s WPIAL semifinal at North Allegheny against Ambridge (19-6), a 43-38 winner over Hopewell. The Lady ’Canes (21-3) beat the Lady Bridgers twice during Section 2-AAA play.
“It’s been so stressful. You want so much for the kids. Unfortunately, we don’t have a full complement of players,” New Castle coach Jason Rankin said. “I have pushed them as hard as I can push them without them pushing back. I want the best for them. It’s been so emotionally rough. They sometimes don’t see the picture. I want them to understand that, in life, you’re going to have to deal with adversity and you’re just going to have to get through it. I give them all the credit because they believe. They keep playing and moving on. We’ll see what happens against Ambridge because they are playing well.”
In the first half, Rankin’s troops struggled against the Lady Titans (17-7). New Castle clung to a 7-6 lead after the opening quarter and held a 23-22 halftime lead.
“I thought we had some nerves. Also, we were kind of concerned because, like us, no one really played them man-to-man, so I didn’t see a whole lot of man offense, so I wasn’t sure what we were going to do,” Rankin said. “I really didn’t want to go out after them. We want to press. But, with the injuries, that kind of eliminated a lot of our options. We were able to make some adjustments on the fly. It never got out of hand.”
West Mifflin started to pull away in the third quarter and posted a 33-27 lead with 3:16 remaining. The Lady ’Canes retaliated with an 11-0 run to close the frame and extended it to a 16-0 overall spree to start the fourth and posted a 43-33 lead with 6:05 left to play.
“It felt good to win. It was a back-and-forth game, but we kept playing hard as a team and took it over,” Brothers said. “We weren’t going to come out in the second half and just get beat. We weren’t going out like that. It’s a new year, but we know how to play when it’s crunch time. We know what to do, know not to panic and just keep playing hard and we’ll come out with a W.”
Rankin believes the team’s conditioning was a factor in the late run.
“I think that’s where (West Mifflin) hit the wall. It’s hot in there; it got to be like 40-something degrees outside and that helped us. We’re not tremendously deep as we should be because of the injuries, but we just practice harder. So, the seven we have can go the whole game,” he said.
“I’ve pushed them all year. We’ve done a speed and agility program and we’ve done a lot of running all year. So, even though we play six or seven, we’re in pretty good shape. Being down, I think it gave us a sense of purpose after that because we knew that the game was coming down. We were a little sloppy, but it was because we had pieces here and pieces here and we’re just jumbling the mix.”
New Castle maintained its lead throughout the fourth quarter and sealed the win at the foul line. The Lady ’Canes converted 14 of 19 foul shots in the period despite hitting on only 8 of 17 freebies in the first three quarters.
“That killer instinct is something you get from being a champion and having won previous games and knowing what it takes to be a winner,” Rankin said.
Jayla Leftwich tallied 20 points for the Lady Titans, while Ciara Patterson added 16.
Ja’Nia McPhatter had nine points for New Castle. Delvona Dennis added seven and Maria Romano tossed in three.
“We came together,” Brothers said. “Like Coach Rankin said, we have a heart of a champion and we just weren’t going out and losing like that.”