Hooker shakes off foul trouble to lead ’Canes
New Castle (85) Vs. Latrobe (64)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
WEXFORD — New Castle High boys basketball player Malik Hooker was uncharacteristically quiet in the first half last night.
A large part of it was because he wasn’t on the floor for a majority of the first 16 minutes.
That all changed in the second half and it spelled doom for Latrobe.
Hooker shook off foul trouble to score 17 of his 21 points in the second half to help lift the Red Hurricane to an 85-64 WPIAL Class AAAA first-round win over the Wildcats at North Allegheny High School.
Hooker, a junior, scored four points in the first quarter, but collected two quick fouls along the way and came out of the game late in the period. New Castle coach Ralph Blundo inserted him back in the lineup to start the second stanza with the score deadlocked at 17. But Hooker was hit with his third foul just 43 seconds into the quarter and he sat the rest of the half.
“You don’t have a choice but to take him out in that situation,” Blundo said of the early stages of the second quarter. “With two fouls, you can leave Malik in.
“I gambled and put him back in there to start the second. We need Malik in the game.”
Hooker started the third quarter with the ’Canes up 45-32 and never picked up another foul the rest of the way. He scored four more points in the third quarter to give New Castle a 58-46 advantage going to the fourth.
“It was very frustrating,” Hooker said of the foul trouble. “I just kept playing through it. I lost my head for a quarter or so. But I came back in and the guys picked me up. That’s when I got back to playing my game.”
Hooker’s field goal with 6:31 remaining gave New Castle a 60-46 and the team never looked back. He netted 13 markers in the final frame, including a pair of thunderous one-handed dunks just 1:23 apart in the last four minutes of the game to ice the win.
“When I was going to the hole, it was me thinking I was going to finish above the rim,” Hooker said of the jams. “Dunking was just my momentum running. I was so frustrated, I just wanted to finish so strong at the rack.”
“Malik played with great energy in the fourth quarter,” Blundo said. “More than the two dunks he got was the two loose balls he got to for me. The two loose balls he got were something special to me. His hands were everywhere out there.”
Latrobe got no closer than 11 at 60-49 in the fourth quarter.
“Hooker is an incredible athlete,” Wildcats coach Brad Wetzel said. “To see some of the plays he made was very impressive.
“Emotionally, we get a couple of those rebounds then we cut into the deficit, then all of a sudden it’s different. That lead just seemed to get stretched out just enough and Hooker decided to throw a couple in. I think he really solidified that whole push they made.”
Drew Allen, also a junior, filled in for Hooker and notched 13 points, eight coming in the second quarter for the ’Canes.
“Drew sparked us in the second quarter with some big offensive rebounds,” Blundo said. “He made some really good plays for us to get us rolling. He was very active and his energy was very good. He was very physical as well.”
Shawn Anderson, a senior and Navy recruit, paced all scorers with 22 points for New Castle. Brandon Domenick added 13 points and Anthony Richards tossed in 12, all coming on 3-pointers.
Mike Soforic led Latrobe with 15 points.
New Castle advances to meet Gateway (16-5), a 56-45 winner over Kiski, on Saturday at a time and site to be announced. The ninth-seeded Gators are the two-time defending WPIAL champions, having won the title last year as the No. 11 seed.
“Gateway is a big and strong team,” Blundo said. “Seeds mean nothing to them. They’re a good basketball team and I think they’re one of the top four teams in the WPIAL.”