Lady ’Canes rally to top Blackhawk in OT
New Castle (73) Vs. Blackhawk (62)

ROSS TOWNSHIP — The door was left open by just a crack.

That’s all the New Castle High girls basketball team needed last night.

The Lady ’Canes erased a 13-point deficit midway through the third quarter and rallied for a 73-62 overtime win over Blackhawk in a PIAA Class AAA second-round matchup at North Hills High School.

The Lady Cougars led 42-29 with 4:28 remaining in the third period and 47-42 after three. New Castle took advantage of Blackhawk’s free-throw woes in the fourth frame. The Lady Cougars (22-6), who won the WPIAL championship, were just 5 of 11 at the stripe in the last eight minutes.

“The door opened because they left it open,” Lady ’Canes coach Jason Rankin said. “We can say what we want, but we’ve all been there as coaches. We’ve all had games where we missed free throws and we should have won.

“I was surprised because they’ve been through some big games. But we have the heart of a lion; the stealth of a catbird. That’s what’s going to happen in a situation like that. If you leave the door open, we’re going to slip in and take it and you’re going to wonder what happened. That’s what happens from playing and playing and playing.”

The victory propels New Castle (24-4) into the state quarterfinals for the first time in the program’s history. The Lady ’Canes meet Mercyhurst Prep, a 47-40 winner over Indiana, on Saturday at a time and site to be determined.

Alexis Graham gave Blackhawk a 54-53 lead with 52 seconds left in regulation on a jumper. Blackhawk forced a turnover by Ja’Nia McPhatter on the other end, and Graham went to the foul line after an intentional foul was called on the Lady ’Canes.

Graham buried both freebies and the Lady Cougars held a 56-53 advantage with 36.6 seconds and possession of the ball.

McPhatter made up for her miscue when she stole the ball and raced the length of the floor for a layup, getting fouled as well. McPhatter drained the foul shot with 23.1 seconds to go, tying it at 56.

“We had the heart of a champion,” McPhatter said. “You can’t get down in the dumps. We kept each other up and we just got it done.

“If you let us in that door, we’re taking it, and we did.”

New Castle came out of a full timeout with energy. The Lady ’Canes went right over to their cheering section, waving their arms for their faithful to get into the game, and they obliged.

“Coach Rankin said to go hype the crowd up,” McPhatter said. “We got the crowd into it, and when they’re into it, it’s a totally different atmosphere.”

Said Talbert, “Our crowd is what hypes us up and gets us into our game.”

Graham weaved her way through the lane on the Lady Cougars’ next possession and she got all the way to the bucket. However, she was whistled for a travel with 6.1 seconds to go.

Rankin mapped out the strategy in the game’s waning moments, prior to Blackhawk’s possession, during the full timeout he spent with 23.1 left.

“I told them right before it happened that if the ball goes in, get it out and go,” he said if Blackhawk made a basket. “If they miss it, get it out and go, then they were whistled for traveling.

“I think them not being able to set up helped us out tremendously.”

Talbert took the ball and drove down the floor and launched about a 10-footer at the buzzer that bounced harmlessly off the rim, forcing overtime.

“I thought I had it but it just fell short,” Talbert said of the shot. “I had to go a little stronger to the hoop.”

McPhatter took over for the Lady ’Canes in overtime. She netted eight of her 23 points in the extra session, while pulling down four of her five rebounds in the four-minute period.

“I knew what I had to do to help my team out and make shots,” McPhatter said of her play in overtime. “They were crucial shots so we had to get them.

“I jumped harder (for rebounds) than I did all game. I just had to dig deep to get it done.”

McPhatter, a senior, gave New Castle the lead for good at 58-56 with 3:47 to go in overtime on a runner. She stole the ball on the other end 20 seconds later and LaShauna Brothers increased the buffer to 61-56 on a three-point play with 2:39 to go.

Brothers recorded game-bests of 27 points and 15 rebounds.

Blackhawk’s Rachel Curtiss knocked down two foul shots with 1:32 left to close the deficit to 61-58. But McPhatter broke away on a long inbounds pass from Brothers, hauling in the aerial and gliding in for a layup with 1:30 left. Maria Romano was taking it out initially, and she handed it off to Brothers, who then heaved it long.

Rankin was pleased with the end result, even if it didn’t go totally to plan.

“I drew the play up on one side and we took the ball out on the other,” he said. “So when we came out, everybody was bumping into each other like a Three Stooges movie. Because I said this, this and this and everything was flip-flopped.

“I was hollering to go long and switch around. You have to give Ja’Nia credit. It was like a Tom Brady pass right between two people and she caught it. We’ve done it for so long. Originally, LaShauna and Ja’Nia were supposed to be on the elbows and wing, and Maria was going to take it out. Ja’Nia was supposed to go hard and long. What happened was LaShauna went on the same side of Maria. Christina was standing there. Dana (Perrotta) was completely lost and Ja’Nia went long, so it didn’t matter and she made the play. It was a great play.”

New Castle was able to sink foul shots down the stretch to seal the win, going 7 of 7 in the extra session.

McPhatter put an exclamation point on the win with a steal and coast-to-coast layup with 15 seconds left for a 73-60 advantage. She finished with nine steals as well.

“Ja’Nia just stepped up for us and really played well down the stretch,” Rankin said.

Blackhawk took a 36-27 halftime lead behind the play of Alexa Hayward, who is a Division I recruit to St. Francis (Loretto, Pa.). Hayward netted a team-high 22 points, 16 of which came in the first half.

That’s when Talbert approached Rankin.

“Christina came to me and said, ‘I want to guard her,’ ” Rankin said. “She did a great job of hounding her.

“Hayward had some good looks in the second half. But we wanted to defend her 94 feet from the basket because if you let her have 50 feet of dribbling, she’s basically untouchable. Christina picked her up end to end and changed the game for us.”

New Castle was 27 of 64 from the field, compared to 20 of 50 for Blackhawk. The Lady Cougars were just 6 of 21 in the second half.
Game Scoreboard
New Castle 14 13 15 14 17 73
Blackhawk 18 18 11 9 6 62
Box Scores
Delvona Dennis 0 1-4 1
Ja’Nia McPhatter 9 5-8 23
LaShauna Brothers 11 4-6 27
Christina Talbert 5 5-6 16
Dana Perrotta 1 0-0 3
Maria Romano 1 0-0 3
Kelsey Scott 0 0-0 0.
Totals: 27 15-24 73.

Alexa Hayward 8 2-2 22
Jasmine Campbell 0 3-8 3
Jesseca Muslin 0 0-1 0
Rachel Curtiss 2 8-8 12
Hallie Denman 3 1-2 7
Alexis Graham 7 4-8 18
Rebecca Rowe 0 0-0 0.
Totals: 20 18-29 62.

NEW CASTLE 14 13 15 14 17 — 73
BLACKHAWK 18 18 11 9 6 — 62
3-point goals — New Castle 4 (Brothers 1, Talbert 1, Romano 1, Perrotta 1), Blackhawk 4 (Hayward 4).
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