Red Hurricane storms into WPIAL title game
New Castle (71) Vs. Seneca Valley (46)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News

AMBRIDGE — The classification may have changed, but little else has for the New Castle High boys basketball team.

The Red Hurricane is going back to the WPIAL championship game — only this time, the 2011-12 Class AAA champion ’Canes will attempt to strike gold at the Class AAAA level.

Shawn Anderson delivered a game-high 28 points to lift New Castle to a 71-46 win over Section 3 rival Seneca Valley in the Class AAAA semifinals in front of a packed house at Ambridge High School.

The ’Canes were up by 12 points in the third quarter before pulling away.

“For three quarters, it was exactly what I expected,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “It was two teams that were going to be well-prepared. There was a familiarity with the teams from going at each other two times in the regular season.

“I thought Seneca Valley played really well in the first half. We were just able to get enough of a lead that we were able to spread the floor.”

The top-seeded ’Canes (25-0), ranked No. 1 in the district in Class AAAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and No. 5 in the state by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, will have a chance to make history Saturday. New Castle won the WPIAL Class AAA title last year over Hampton, the eighth crown in the program’s history. No school has won consecutive WPIAL basketball championships competing in different classifications.

New Castle will have an opportunity to change that when it battles the third-seeded Talbots (21-4) in a rematch of last year’s title tilt when the teams meet at 9 p.m. Saturday at Duquesne University’s A.J. Palumbo Center. Hampton, coached by former Westminster College standout Joe Lafko, moved on with a 66-62 win over North Allegheny.

The ’Canes topped Hampton twice in the regular season in section action.

“Hampton is a great team,” Blundo said. “We’ll have to prepare and be ready for them.”

Anderson, a senior and Navy recruit, tossed in 11 of his points in the first quarter and 17 in the half as New Castle built a 23-15 advantage after one and 36-24 at the break. He nailed both of his 3-pointers in the first half.

“I really didn’t do anything different,” Anderson said. “I was feeling it from the 3-point line in the first half.

“Once you get us rolling, it’s hard to stop us. It’s my job as a leader to get the guys rolling. That’s all I try to do.”

New Castle senior point guard Brandon Domenick knew that eight-point lead after one quarter was pivotal to his team’s success.

“It was huge,” Domenick said of the lead. “We knew they were going to come out and make a run. We came out with unbelievable energy and got steals and that led to fastbreak points. That was huge for us.”

Anderson was 10 of 20 from the field with a game-high 10 rebounds and three assists as well.

“He’s just a great basketball player and a great human being,” Blundo said of Anderson. “He’s a great leader; it’s been a pleasure coaching him and I want to coach him as long as I can.

“He just plays his best basketball on the big stages. I’m glad he’s on my team.”

The 12th-seeded Raiders (17-8) cut the deficit to 23-18 on a 3-pointer 34 seconds into the second quarter by Eric Woods. But it proved to be the closest Seneca Valley would get the rest of the way.

The Raiders did shut down New Castle’s offense in the second quarter, though, allowing just 13 points.

“We wanted to keep the game in the 60s, even the high 50s, and it got away from us a little bit,” Seneca Valley coach Victor Giannotta said.

Part of the Raiders’ success came via New Castle’s foul trouble, in particular Malik Hooker. Hooker picked up two first-quarter fouls and was hit with his third with 2:12 to go in the half. He sat out the remainder of the half.

Hooker, who tossed in a career-best 29 points in the second game this year against Seneca Valley at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House, was called for his fourth foul just 37 seconds into the third quarter and he sat the rest of the period. Hooker started the fourth but never fouled out.

“So many times, fouls occur after a breakdown somewhere else,” Blundo said. “He did pick up some fouls early and we had to sit him on the bench. But that’s what Red Hurricane basketball is all about. Other guys stepped up and played superb. That’s not easy to do because in my opinion, Malik is one of the best players in the WPIAL.”

Said Hooker, “We were so fired up. We wanted this game so bad. This is one of the biggest games that we were thinking about all year. We knew this game was going to come out to a grind.”

New Castle pushed a 41-29 lead with 6:17 to go in the third to 51-35 going to the fourth. Anthony Richards sparked the ’Canes’ strong third quarter by nailing two 3-pointers. Richards finished with 13 markers, three rebounds and three assists.

“The one 3-pointer I had in the third quarter was big for us, it just snowballed from there and we extended the lead,” Richards said.

New Castle put the game away with a 13-4 run to open the fourth quarter.

Antonio Rudolph added 11 points, five rebounds and a team-high three steals for the ’Canes. He knocked down a 3-pointer in the first and third quarters to open things up for the New Castle offense.

“I go hard every day practicing and shooting,” Rudolph said. “My goal this game was to shoot better, just be a better player in every way I can be.”

Easton Bazzoli paced the Raiders in scoring with 18.

Seneca Valley was just 5 of 15 at the foul line. All 10 of the Raiders’ misses from the charity stripe came in the first three quarters.

“It would have been closer at least,” Giannotta said of the missed foul shots. “The kids would have had a hop in their step maybe.”


New Castle on verge of making history

By Andrew Petyak
New Castle News

A lot can change in a year.

The New Castle High basketball team knows a little something about that. The Red Hurricane, fresh off a WPIAL Class AAA title last season, was moved to Class AAAA this season. The jump in classification meant tougher competition, new teams to scout and the burning question of how New Castle would perform against these new odds.

Much to the dismay of their opponents, the ’Canes winning ways remained the same.

With an undefeated regular season record in its pocket and a win over 71-46 Seneca Valley in the semifinals, New Castle will make its second-straight trip to the A.J. Palumbo Center for the WPIAL title game. The 25-0 ’Canes will face a familiar foe, Hampton, a Section 3 rival they beat twice this season and the same team they upended in the championship matchup last year, 57-44.

“It means a lot,” junior forward Malik Hooker said of making the finals two years in a row “We’re a lot closer than we were last year. We are like one family. We want our seniors to go out with a bang. It means a lot to all of us.

“Everybody was saying we weren’t going to do well because it’s Quad-A. It proved a lot to us.”

Hooker is one of four returning starters from last year’s championship team with Antonio Rudolph, the new addition to the starting lineup, receiving major minutes as a reserve last year. Three starting seniors — Rudolph, Brandon Domenick and Shawn Anderson — are hoping there will be a reason to celebrate this Saturday night.

“As a senior point guard, there is no better feeling in the world,” Domenick said. “This is how I want to go out. I’m going to leave it all on the floor with my teammates.”

“It’s unbelievable. It’s the best feeling you can ever have going as your second time in a row to the A.J. Palumbo Center,” junior guard Anthony Richards echoed. “It’s the best feeling you can ever have as a high school basketball player.”

The ’Canes knew they had to prepare differently for their opponents going into this season. It all started in the weight room.

“We were just in the gym almost every day all through the summer and through the fall with the conditioning,” Richards said. “It’s just a grind. When you get there (to the finals), it’s like this is it. Everything we did, this is what it is for.”

Domenick was quick to agree.

“We were in the weight room more often. We knew there were going to be bigger bodies in Quad-A, we knew there was going to be a bigger battle. It was a grind the whole summer.”

A victory in the title game would mean history for New Castle. The ’Canes would become the first team in WPIAL basketball history to win a championship in two separate classifications in two consecutive seasons. However, records to this team seem like an afterthought.

“It’ll be a great achievement if it happens. We’re just worried about winning the game,” Richards said. “We don’t even think about the history-making or anything, we just want to win the game, then we’ll worry about all of that stuff after.”

Game Scoreboard
New Castle 23 13 15 20 0 71
Seneca Valley 15 9 11 11 0 46
Box Scores
Easton Bazzoli 8 2-5 18
Matthew Darby 0 0-3 0
Thomas Holl 3 1-2 7
Ryan McCauley 2 1-3 5
Alex Snyder 3 1-2 7
Michael Smith 0 0-0 0
Eric Woods 2 0-0 6
Taylor Mantick 0 0-0 0
Chad Izenas 0 0-0 0
Matt Drable 1 0-0 3.
Totals: 19 5-15 46.

Brandon Domenick 0 2-2 2
Antonio Rudolph 4 1-2 11
Shawn Anderson 10 6-7 28
Anthony Richards 3 4-4 13
Malik Hooker 3 2-2 8
Jesse Salzano 0 0-0 0
Stew Allen 0 0-2 0
Drew Allen 3 0-0 7
Micah Fulena 0 0-0 0
Levar Ware 0 0-0 0
Jake McPhatter 1 0-0 2
Robert Natale 0 0-0 0.
Totals: 24 15-19 71.

SENECA VALLEY 15 9 11 11 — 46
NEW CASTLE 23 13 15 20 — 71
3-point goals — Seneca Valley 3 (Woods 2, Drable 1); New Castle 8 (Rudolph 2, Anderson 2, Richards 3, D. Allen 1).
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