’Canes make victorious debut in Class AAAA
New Castle (64) Vs. Butler (48)
By Joe Sager
New Castle News
BUTLER — Welcome back to the neighborhood, New Castle.
The Red Hurricane marked its return to WPIAL Section 3-AAAA boys basketball last night with a 64-48 triumph at Butler.
It was the team’s first game back in Class AAAA since the 2007-08 season. Coincidentally, New Castle’s last Section 3-AAAA game was a 54-41 loss at Butler on Feb. 1, 2008.
“This is life in Section 3. This is what you’re getting every single night. True competitors love this,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “You’re going to have teams that compete and fight. Butler played to the very last second as hard as they possibly could and that’s what you get in this section.”
Even though the ’Canes (1-0 section, 3-0 overall) won by a 16-point margin, the victory was anything but easy. The Golden Tornado (0-1, 1-2) came within three points, 33-30, with 4:50 remaining in the third quarter.
However, New Castle responded with a 16-3 outburst to take control, 49-33, 25 seconds into the final stanza.
“You go into Butler, a hostile environment; you’re on the road. This is exactly what I expected,” Blundo said. “I don’t know if this is what (the team) expected, but we certainly found out a little about our guys because it was 33-30. The response to that was a 16-3 run with a lot of guys stepping up.
“Give Butler credit; those kids played extremely hard and I don’t expect anything less from a team coached by Matt Clement. His teams always play really, really hard.”
Clement is a former multi-sport star at Butler who later pitched professionally for the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox.
Last season, the ’Canes obliterated their Section 2-AAA foes to the average tune of 83- 54, and rarely were challenged late in games. They know section competition is more challenging this season.
“I give credit to Butler because they came and played hard the whole game. Even when we were up by a lot of points, they still kept coming at us,” said New Castle’s Malik Hooker, who led all scorers with 19 points. “I am pretty sure it’s going to be like that every game, but we have to come ready to play regardless of the situation is. We have to practice harder and take stuff more seriously, so that, when we do get in situations like that, we can be mature enough to handle it and come out with a win like we did.”
New Castle got into an early 8-2 hole, but rallied for an 18-1 spree and closed the first quarter with a 20-12 advantage.
The ’Canes struggled to get separation in the second quarter and carried a 30-20 lead into halftime.
Butler made its charge in the third to cut the deficit to 33-30 just 3:10 into the second half, but New Castle responded with authority.
“When a team starts getting a run, we don’t hang our heads,” Hooker said. “That just gives us more motivation to play harder and to come back with a response. That’s what we did.”
The ’Canes’ lead maxed out at 19 points late in the fourth and they settled for the 16-point win.
New Castle had little time to rest, though. They flew to Florida this morning to take part in the KSA Tournament in Orlando. Their first game is at 9:30 tomorrow against Cypress Creek (Fla.). They return to action at 9:30 a.m. Friday against Anchorage Christian (Ark.).
“It feels good to get that (section win) off our shoulders and now we can go to Florida and have some fun,” Hooker said. “When it’s time to play on the court, we’ll put the fun behind us until afterward.”
Antonio Rudolph added 12 points and drew two huge charging calls for New Castle. Shawn Anderson, who was held scoreless in the first half, finished with 11 points.
Luke Hartung paced Butler with 14 points.