PIAA Playoffs: Cold-shooting ’Canes eliminated
Montour (55) Vs. New Castle (50)
By RON PONIEWASZ JR.
WEXFORD — The New Castle High boys basketball team lived by perimeter shooting all season.
Last night, it led to the Red Hurricane’s demise.
New Castle was just 2 of 15 from behind the arc in dropping a heartbreaking 55-50 decision to Montour in the second round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs at North Allegheny High School.
“For whatever it is, we played hard here but we didn’t shoot well here tonight,” first-year ’Canes coach Ralph Blundo said. “Shooting is a funny thing. Sometimes they go in and sometimes they don’t.
“These kids aren’t trying to miss. They’re trying so hard. The ball just didn’t go in. It’s disappointing, but I don’t blame my kids for anything. They played their hearts out.”
The Spartans (21-7), who won the WPIAL championship, will meet Perry Traditional Academy in the state quarterfinals Friday at a time and site to be determined. The Commodores advanced with a 67-53 victory over Franklin.
New Castle (20-8) did set the program record for 3-pointers in a season despite its struggles from the perimeter. The ’Canes closed the campaign with 214 trifectas, breaking the old mark of 212, originally set in the 1998-99 season according to the team’s historian, Joe Plant. The 3-point shot was introduced in 1987-88.
“That was our biggest fear,” said Montour coach Adam Kaufman of New Castle’s outside shooting. “They do such a good job with their spacing, and that was one of our biggest fears was closing out on their shooters.
“We were trying to play more of a containment type defense.”
Corey Eggleston knocked in a pull-up jumper in the lane at the third-quarter buzzer to give New Castle its last lead at 37-36. Eggleston, a junior, tossed in a game-best 20 points on 9-of-21 shooting with seven rebounds.
“It was kind of hard for us to get our game going,” Eggleston said. “When we make our shots, it’s easier for us to get to the hole. That didn’t help us out and it made things tough on us.”
Kaufman knew Eggleston would be a primary focus for his team.
“Eggleston is a stud. He got to whatever point he wanted to on the floor,” Kaufman said. “We tried guarding him with three different guys. Partly because we wanted to keep our guys fresh and partly because we were in foul trouble.
“He’s great at finishing around the rim.”
Fourteen of Eggleston’s tallies came in the second half.
“Corey fought his heart out all night, as did all my kids,” Blundo said. “He was able to get to the cup and finish; he made some really tough shots inside.
“He played a whale of a ballgame.”
Eggleston closed the season with 505 points, and he has 933 for his career.
Montour started the fourth quarter on a roll, going 5 of 5 from the field and scoring on seven of its first nine possessions in the period.
Devin Wilson’s bucket with 7:47 remaining put the Spartans up to stay at 38-37. The field goal ignited a 16-7 run as Montour built a 52-44 buffer with 2:23 to go.
But New Castle kept battling, slicing the deficit to 54-50 with 27.9 seconds left on an Anthony Richards 3-pointer.
“There’s no quit in these kids,” Blundo said. “The reason why we were successful this year is because of the intangibles these kids had. The heart, the guts, the toughness and the brotherhood.
“The family atmosphere that’s been created. The fact that they care so much about each other. You have special runs like this when you have those intangibles.”
The Spartans couldn’t close the ’Canes out from the foul line, though. Dillon Buechel split a pair of foul shots for a 55-50 advantage with 25.9 seconds left. Malik Hooker misfired on a 3-pointer at the other end for New Castle and Montour’s Jimmy Sciulli snared the carom.
Sciulli missed both foul shots on the other end with 17.1 seconds to go and New Castle still had life. But two more missed 3-pointers were off the mark for the ’Canes and Montour survived.
“It’s a tough loss, but I know we’re going to come back strong again next year and we’ll start as soon as possible,” Eggleston said. “Whenever coach is ready for us to get back in the gym, we’ll get back in the gym and start working hard.”
Montour was 7 of 14 from behind the arc and 20 of 33 overall.
The Spartans led most of the way. Every time New Castle tied it or took a lead — its largest lead was two — Montour came down and drained a basket, and most of the time it was from beyond the arc.
The ’Canes had just one opportunity to stretch a two-point lead and they turned the ball over, that coming with just under 5:30 to play in the third quarter and up 28-26. Aaron McGee knotted the count on Montour’s ensuing possession with a field goal.
“They really never gave us a chance to get on a roll,” Blundo said. “That’s a credit to their team and coach Kaufman. He pushed the right buttons.”
New Castle had just 12 turnovers, but at least four of them were traveling violations. In fact, three of them came in the third period during a two-minute stretch.
“That hasn’t happened to us very much this year,” Blundo said of the travels. “That’s maybe the second time all year I saw us being anxious offensively and we needed to be efficient.
“When you play Montour, there’s less possessions in the game. You have to really value your own possessions.”
Though New Castle couldn’t get going from the outside, the ’Canes were able to penetrate the lane for high-percentage shots in the paint. New Castle was 21 of 48 from the field.
Shawn Anderson chipped in with 13 points and seven rebounds for the ’Canes.
Buechel netted 15 points for the Spartans.