’Canes up intensity to defeat Peabody
New Castle (65) Vs. Peabody (40)
By RON PONIEWASZ JR.
The New Castle High boys basketball team needed some consistency.
The Red Hurricane got it in the second half last night.
Shots were falling. Defenders were active. And it led to a familiar sight — a victory.
New Castle pulled away in the second half for a 65-40 PIAA Class AAA play-in verdict over Peabody at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House.
The ’Canes (19-7) move on to the first round and will meet St. Marys (17-7) at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Clarion University’s Tippin Gymnasium. The Flying Dutchmen won the District 9 championship, their first since 2000, 49-37, over Bradford. St. Marys won just two games last year.
“It’s a little bit of a feather in our cap to win a state playoff game,” first-year New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “To play the game at home in front of our own fans makes it even nicer.
“It’s a good transition piece on our way to Friday, but we’re going to have to play much better on Friday if we’re going to beat St. Marys.”
New Castle was coming of a 56-42 loss to South Fayette in the WPIAL semifinals on March 1.
The ’Canes, who held a 24-10 lead with 3:13 to play in the opening half, settled for a 26-16 halftime advantage.
“At that point in time, we’re just concerned about not playing real well,” Blundo said of the first half. “That was six straight quarters we didn’t play very well.
“We truly challenged them at halftime to sit down and guard and play with more of an edge. That edge that’s made us a very good basketball team, I didn’t see it in the first half. It was obvious and that’s why we didn’t play very well.”
Freshman Malik Hooker helped New Castle sustain the lead throughout the second quarter. Hooker tallied nine of his game-best 16 points in that period.
“Coach Blundo just told me I need to bring energy and that’s what I did,” Hooker said. “He came in and screamed a little bit at halftime.
“Usually when he does that it makes us play harder and more aggressive.”
Last night was no different.
The Highlanders (10-10) got within 26-20 early in the third quarter, prompting Blundo to call a 30-second timeout.
“I really think it was less about execution than it was playing with a tremendous amount of passion,” Blundo said. “We’re a good basketball team when we play with great passion, great energy and great heart.
“When we don’t, we’re below average and that was the bottom line and that’s what we just reminded them of during the timeout.”
New Castle took control out of the timeout, going on a 6-0 run and building the buffer to 41-26 after three periods. Six Highlanders turnovers in the third enabled the ’Canes to pull away.
“They came out with more pressure on the ball,” Peabody coach Tim Broderick said of New Castle’s intensity. “It’s nothing we didn’t expect, we just didn’t adjust to it.”
The Highlanders turned the ball over 24 times in the game.
“We just kept our composure in the third quarter,” Hooker said. “We kept penetrating and kept taking what they were giving us.”
Peabody scored the first basket of the fourth quarter, but never got any closer than the 13-point deficit it faced with 7:31 to play. New Castle claimed its largest lead of 28 at 58-30 with 3:03 to play.
Shawn Anderson chipped in with 12 markers for the ’Canes, while Antonio Rudolph and Corey Eggleston tossed in 10 points each.
“It definitely feels good to know that when your main guns don’t score like they normally do, that there are other guys that can step up and score,” Blundo said of his team’s balance. “They all believe in each other.
“It’s definitely a nice luxury to know that we have some guys that can put the ball in the hoop.”
Said Broderick, “Someone is going to have to play hard the whole game to beat them. They’re relentless and they don’t quit.”
David Brown paced the Highlanders with 13 points. Dontae Forte, who came in averaging a team-high 18.5 markers a contest, was limited to just nine. Forte battled foul trouble issues, eventually picking up his fourth with 6:48 left in regulation. He didn’t foul out, though.
“Forte shot horribly; he forced it,” Broderick said. “His biggest problem is when they take him away, he knows what to do, but he just doesn’t do it.”