Lady ’Canes roll; Blackhawk up next
New Castle (69) Vs. St. Marys (23)
By JOE SIMON
CLARION — Setting up the film session was easy for Jason Rankin. He wanted to strike some fear into his New Castle High girls basketball team as it prepared for a PIAA Class AAA first-round playoff matchup with St. Marys.
So, he popped in a video of the Lady Dutch’s Kayla Hoohuli, a senior guard with a Division I scholarship to Canisius College on the table, scoring 52 points in a game last year.
The Lady ’Canes received the message loud and clear.
They dominated St. Marys, which lost Hoohuli to an injury in the first quarter, in every facet of the game and cruised to a 69-23 victory Saturday at Clarion University’s Tippin Gymnasium. New Castle moves on to face section-rival Blackhawk in the second round at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at North Hills High School.
Hoohuli was hurt with 1:37 remaining in the first quarter and the Lady ’Canes already up 17-4. New Castle’s Christina Talbert drove to the hoop on a fast break, and Hoohuli was defending. As Talbert made an extra move toward the end of her drive, Hoohuli tried to slide into a better position and collided with Talbert. The 5-foot-11 senior went down immediately, grabbed her knee and was on the floor in obvious pain for several minutes. She returned late in the second quarter to test her knee but left again almost immediately.
While her departure greatly affected the Lady Dutch (22-2), New Castle seemed well on its way to a win before she ever went down.
“The funny thing about playing somebody you don’t see is that you really can put the fear of God into them,” Rankin said of his team. “I purposely showed the Hampton game last year. She had 52. I told the kids to watch and see where she catches it, shoots it from and makes it. She made three of four absolute bombs. When they saw it, they were like, ‘OK. She’s serious.’ ”
Hoohuli came in averaging 30 points a game, but she missed her only two attempts against New Castle, partly because of the injury and also thanks to the shutdown defense of the Lady ’Canes.
New Castle’s size and speed overwhelmed St. Marys, which made just 8 of 32 field goals in the game and was outrebounded 44-19. The Lady ’Canes also caused 34 turnovers and never gave the Lady Dutch a chance. They showed energy and intensity throughout the game, and the reasoning behind it was simple.
“We heard about (Hoohuli),” said senior LaShauna Brothers, who played a great all-around game in scoring 13 points, grabbing seven rebounds and handing out five assists. “Coach said she’ll shoot from anywhere and basically she was their whole team. So we had to come out and play hard, from start to finish.”
Brothers ignited the offense in the first quarter, scoring 10 points. She then began setting the offense up for others, specifically Ja’Nia McPhatter. The senior forward scored a game-high 22 points (10 of 14 from the field) and used her height and leaping ability to snare a game-high 10 rebounds and dominate inside.
It was obvious New Castle’s overall athleticism was superior from the beginning.
“I really didn’t realize they were as quick as they were because we watched them play twice, and both games were complete blowouts,” St. Marys coach Bob Swanson said. “They weren’t really expending as much energy as they came out against us. That caught us by surprise.”
The Lady ’Canes were up 24-4 after the first quarter and St. Marys never moved any closer. New Castle’s press defense smothered the Lady Dutch, who struggled to dribble through the press and couldn’t pass over the taller defenders.
The effort of New Castle was relentless, a trait Rankin said must continue if the Lady ’Canes want to reach their goal of a state championship. They split their two regular-season games against Blackhawk, the WPIAL champion that beat North East, 77-59, in its first-round PIAA matchup.
“I think Blackhawk presents a major problem for us,” he said. “We had two great games. They kept us from going undefeated in the section, and now the (WPIAL) crown is on their head. And as Shakespeare said, ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.’ ”
New Castle will try to dethrone Blackhawk on Wednesday.