Talbert wills Lady ’Canes to win
New Castle (43) Vs. Mount Pleasant (42)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News

PITTSBURGH — The wounded animal struck last night.

The injury-riddled New Castle High girls basketball team somehow managed to do the seemingly impossible — with a big thanks to Christina Talbert.

Talbert, a senior who was not expected to play because of a mild right medial collateral ligament sprain and tendinitis in her patella tendon, came off the bench to score a team-high 11 points, all in the second half, as the Lady ’Canes rallied for a 43-42 WPIAL Class AAA first-round playoff win over Mount Pleasant at Fox Chapel High School.

“Tuesday she did exercises and felt better at practice,” New Castle coach Jason Rankin said. “My biggest concern was, if this girl is going to sit here and watch us, win or lose, her senior year in a uniform, I don’t know that I can be that heartless. I told her it’s her decision to play, or play as long as you can. You don’t have to do magical things. I just would have hated to see her watch us lose, her senior year, on the bench.”

Talbert warmed up before the game, but sat the bench for most of the first half. Then a brief exchange changed everything.

GETTING IN
Rankin took a look in Talbert’s direction during a timeout with 1:26 to play in the opening half and the standout 5-foot-8 guard acknowledged she was ready. She played the rest of the half, misfiring on her lone field goal attempt, a 3-pointer at the intermission buzzer and the Lady Vikings held an 18-11 lead at the break.

Talbert tweaked her knee in a 51-43 section win over Ambridge on Feb. 10. Last night was her first game action since the injury.

“Christina didn’t have the explosion. But she got in the lane and made some shots,” Rankin said. “She defended some, but I thought her lateral movement was limited.”

Said Talbert: “I was a little nervous, especially since I didn’t practice all week. I just sucked it up. It’s playoffs.

“It’s my last year and I want to go out with a bang. I told my teammates when it first happened that I’m going to play right through it.”

MAKING A COMEBACK
The 11th-seeded Lady ’Canes scored the game’s first two points on a Dana Perrotta field goal, and then trailed the rest of the way until the 3:01 mark in the fourth quarter. Down 38-37, Rachael Razzano hauled in a pass from Talbert, spotted up and drained a 3-pointer. She was fouled on the play and buried the freebie, giving New Castle its first lead since 2-0 at 41-38.

“I missed a few shots, but the coaches said to shoot with confidence,” Razzano said. “Christina (Talbert) threw it over and I just shot it. I didn’t know I made it until Christina came over and started screaming. Then I thought it was a good feeling and the girls were behind me on it.”

Said Rankin, “That’s actually the fourth time this year Rachael’s made a 3 and got fouled on it. She’s completed the four-point play on three of those. She shoots free throws really well. I give her so much credit.”

Razzano’s four-point play gave the Lady ’Canes the lead for good. But there was plenty of drama down the stretch. She split a pair of foul shots with 2:21 left for a 42-38 margin.

HOLDING ON
Talbert missed two free throws with 1:53 to go, but the Lady Vikings turned it over 30 seconds later on their next possession. Talbert turned the ball back over to sixth-seeded Mount Pleasant with 1:18 to go and the Lady Vikings’ Elaina Fearer was errant on a runner with 59 seconds remaining.

Razzano, who netted 10 points, had a chance to put New Castle up six, but she made just one of two free throws for a 43-38 advantage with 26.7 left. Julia Novotny drained a 3-pointer with 15 seconds to play, narrowing the margin to 43-41.

New Castle had a hard time getting the ball in, and turned it over amid confusion under the basket with 8.3 seconds left. The Lady ’Canes still had a timeout left after Novotny’s 3-pointer. The Lady Vikings called their last timeout with 26.7 seconds to go.

Nakia Fish went to take the ball out and Talbert ran in to help, but it was too late.

“When they made the 3, it was just all bad,” Talbert said. “Then the wrong person took the ball out of bounds for us. When I tried to go to the ball, she just panicked. It won’t happen again.”

Said Rankin, “I told them to take your time getting it in. I was going to call a timeout when (Nakia) Fish was standing there looking kind of clueless. But then it was our last timeout.

“If I had called our last timeout, then if we can’t get the ball inbounds, they’d call a five-second call and people would say this idiot (coach) just called their timeout. It would have been smarter to drop the ball and say Rachael, take it out.”

CLOSE CALL
Alexa Szelong was off on a 3-pointer for Mount Pleasant and Fearer tracked down the rebound and was fouled with 2.1 seconds left.

Fearer went to the line for a two-shot foul. She sank the first one, but drew back iron on the second attempt. Jenna Szelong, Alexa’s sister, snared the rebound underneath but her field goal attempt at the buzzer hit the corner of the rim and the Lady ’Canes survived.

“This is the first time we’ve played in a game that close, and they have to learn on the job. And they did,” Rankin said of his young team. “It’s survive and advance.”

Alexa Szelong paced Mount Pleasant with 13 points.

Both teams struggled from the foul line. The Lady ’Canes were 9 of 21, compared to 14 of 27 for the Lady Vikings.

New Castle (13-9) advances to meet section rival Blackhawk on Saturday at a time and site to be determined. The Lady Cougars (20-3) rolled to a 71-56 win over West Mifflin last night.

The teams split the series in the regular season, with the home team winning both encounters.

“It’s a case of I know you, you know me,” Rankin said of the rivalry. “There’s a tremendous amount of respect for both teams.”


******


CLASS AAA GIRLS MATCHUPS
SATURDAY, FEB. 18
Belle Vernon 59, Indiana 47
Beaver 62, Knoch 28
Central Valley 60, Trinity 27
Greensburg Salem 48, Montour 44
West Mifflin 68, Kittanning 44
Hopewell, Chartiers Valley, Uniontown, South Park and Blackhawk have a bye.
WEDNESDAY, FEB. 22
Elizabeth Forward 34, Hampton 31
South Fayette 35, Mars 28
NEW CASTLE 43, Mount Pleasant 42
Hopewell 60, Belle Vernon 24
Chartiers Valley 62, Beaver 42
Uniontown 69, Central Valley 56
South Park 66, Greensburg Salem 33
Blackhawk 71, West Mifflin 56
SATURDAY, FEB. 25
QUARTERFINALS
Times and sites to be determined
Hopewell vs. Elizabeth Forward
Chartiers Valley vs. Uniontown
South Park vs. South Fayette
Blackhawk vs. NEW CASTLE
Game Scoreboard
Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 OT SCORE
New Castle 6 5 16 16 0 43
Mount Pleasant 9 9 14 10 0 42
Box Scores
NEW CASTLE (43)
Rachael Razzano 2 5-8 10
Dana Perrotta 2 0-1 5
Brandy Stewart 3 0-2 6
Nakea Fish 2 0-0 4
Kelsey Scott 2 2-2 6
Velvet Wade 0 1-4 1
Ki’Ria McPhatter 0 0-0 0
Darrian Johnson 0 0-0 0
Christina Talbert 5 1-4 11.
Totals: 16 9-21 43.

MOUNT PLEASANT (42)
Julia Novotny 2 0-0 5
Alexa Szelong 5 2-5 13
Kayla King 0 0-0 0
Jenna Szelong 1 4-4 6
Casey Zelenak 1 1-4 3
Jordan Toohey 4 1-4 9
Bria Rogers 0 2-4 2
Elaina Fearer 0 4-6 4.
Totals: 13 14-27 42.

NEW CASTLE 6 5 16 16 — 43
MOUNT PLEASANT 9 9 14 10 — 42

3-point goals — New Castle 2 (Razzano 1, Perrotta 1), Mount Pleasant 2 (Novotny 1, A. Szelong 1).



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