Mercyhurst Prep ends Lady ’Canes’ season
Mercyhurst Prep (66) Vs. New Castle (54)
By RON PONIEWASZ JR.
EDINBORO — Frustration.
And plenty of tears.
The New Castle High girls basketball team didn’t have a memorable experience in the PIAA Class AAA quarterfinals Saturday.
The Lady ’Canes were just 22 of 66 from the field, and couldn’t overcome a 17-point deficit midway through the fourth period, dropping a 66-54 verdict to Mercyhurst Prep at Edinboro University’s McComb Fieldhouse.
New Castle (24-5) was appearing in the state quarterfinals for the first time in the program’s history.
The Lady ’Canes battled back from a 12-point second-quarter deficit, but falling behind 58-41 with just 5:55 to play proved to be too much. The Lady ’Canes were just 9 of 38 from the floor in the second half.
“They did a good job of getting into the gaps and contesting our shots,” second-year New Castle coach Jason Rankin said. “I was happy with the first comeback because we were down 12. The second comeback, I was a little less confident that we would come back because we expended a lot of energy the first time.”
The Lady Lakers (26-2), winners of 23 straight and ranked No. 2 in the state by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, advances to the western final to meet Villa Joseph Marie at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Bedford High School.
A LATE COMEBACK
New Castle quickly rattled off eight points to close to within 58-49 with 3:29 remaining. Mercyhurst Prep contributed to the run, turning the ball over four times in five possessions.
“I was feeling good, but I kept telling the kids the game was far from over,” Lady Lakers coach Dan Perfetto said of his team’s 17-point lead. “A team as good and as athletic as New Castle, we still had to be strong with the ball and make our free throws.”
Lady ’Canes senior Ja’Nia McPhatter capped the 8-0 run with a field goal. But she fouled out just six seconds later, which was a crushing blow. McPhatter picked up her fourth foul 32 seconds into the fourth period with New Castle trailing 51-41.
Rankin sat her down for about two minutes to preserve her for the stretch run. McPhatter finished with 12 points and five rebounds. She closed her career with 960 points.
“When she’s in foul trouble it changes everything,” Rankin said of McPhatter. “LaShauna (Brothers) and Ja’Nia play a number of positions; they alternate. If we lose either of the two, you lose three positions.
“Ja’Nia in foul trouble means it was tough for us to do what we wanted to do offensively and defensively. She had a great career and scored nearly 1,000 points. When you have (nearly) a 1,000-point scorer sitting on your bench, you’re losing a whole lot.”
McPhatter’s fifth foul put the Lady Lakers into the one-and-one, and Kayla Wilwohl converted both freebies for a 60-49 advantage with 3:23 to go. New Castle’s Maria Romano buried a 3-pointer with 3:16 left to cut the deficit to 60-52.
Mercyhurst Prep spread the floor on its next possession and killed nearly 90 seconds before turning it over. But Dana Perrotta was short on a 3-pointer attempt on the other end as the Lady Lakers slowly put the game away.
Brothers, a senior who netted a team-best 16 points, notched just two second-half points. In fact, 12 of her tallies came in the second quarter. She was 6 of 23 from the floor with eight rebounds and four steals.
“They singled her up in the low post in the second quarter. She made a couple of great catches and she put the ball in the basket,” Rankin said of Brothers’ second quarter. “She got fouled a couple of times in the second half and they didn’t call it and she got frustrated a little bit.”
Brothers finished her career with 1,283 points, ranking 14th on the county’s all-time list.
Brothers helped the Lady ’Canes rally from a 23-11 deficit with 6:31 remaining in the half. Her bucket inside with 13 seconds left in the second quarter capped the half as New Castle trailed, 33-31.
“At one point, I think Brothers just looked to take over,” Perfetto said. “She was able to get to the basket a few times. She’s a strong kid that has great control of her body.”
Rankin burned a 30-second timeout in the second quarter when his team trailed by 12.
“The effort changed a great deal,” Rankin said of the effect the timeout had. “I really got into them in that timeout in the first half.
“I thought with five of them playing hard we’d be in a good position.”
The New Castle faithful cheered on the Lady ’Canes as they took possession down two to open the second half. The boost from the crowd helped as Brothers sank a pair of foul shots with 7:08 left in the third quarter to knot the count at 33. Delvona Dennis cashed in a putback off her own miss in the paint to give the Lady ’Canes a 35-33 lead, their first advantage since a 7-5 buffer midway through the first period.
But Lindsay Stamp, who was held to six first-half points, tied the game at 35 and gave the Lady Lakers the lead for good at 38-35 on a deep 3-pointer with 5:54 left in the third stanza.
Stamp, who originally committed to Holy Cross but has since opted out and will attend Mercyhurst College, tossed in 17 points to go along with 10 rebounds. Eight of her points came in the third quarter.
“I do think they were trying to take Lindsay away,” Perfetto said. “Early on, she didn’t get a lot of looks.
“In the second half, she hit some big shots to get her momentum going. We shared the ball really well as a team and I thought that was important.”
Brenna Robbins led Mercyhurst Prep with 19 points and 11 rebounds, while Ally Burke added 16 markers.
“They stepped up and hit some short shots,” Rankin said of Robbins and Burke. “They took some shots we wanted them to take and they made them.”
Said Perfetto of the tandem, “They were tremendous and they had a big assignment because they had to guard Brothers and McPhatter. Offensively, you hope they have enough inside themselves to finish and they did.”
New Castle was forced to overcome knee injuries this year by sophomore Rachael Razzano and junior Kaylynn Waters. Despite the absences of the top reserve (Razzano) and a star guard (Waters), the Lady ’Canes claimed a section championship, reached the WPIAL semifinals and advanced farther in the state playoffs than they ever have.
“With her, we don’t lose a game. End of discussion,” Rankin said of Waters. “I think it was tremendous on the part of the kids that played. We spent a long time re-identifying and re-shaping who we had become.
“We couldn’t be as fast, and we couldn’t run as much. My whole idea (before the season) was we were going to play 10 players and just wear you out every game. It’s a testament to them to really buy into what we wanted to do and they gave everything they had.”
Rankin also loses Dennis and Romano to graduation. The senior class compiled a 70-12 overall mark, with six of those losses coming by three points or less.
“There’s no words that I could say to make them feel better,” Rankin said of his four seniors, whom he coached going back to junior high. “I’m just personally grabbed by everything they’ve done because I’ve had them for six years .
“What you see, this end result, is not only a product of who knows how many hours, and not just practice. But four tremendous people that I’m going to miss.”