New Castle breezes to second straight WPIAL title
New Castle (68) Vs. Hampton (53)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News

PITTSBURGH — The New Castle High boys basketball team made history Saturday night.

And in the process, Red Hurricane players left the A.J. Palumbo Center with gold medals around their necks and another championship banner for the rafters of the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House. 

Shawn Anderson netted 16 points and the New Castle defense dug in en route to a 68-53 WPIAL Class AAAA championship game victory over Hampton in front of a capacity crowd.

“It’s special for my players,” ’Canes coach Ralph Blundo said. “It’s certainly special for me; having the opportunity to watch them accomplish something so amazing.

“A lot of hard work went into this by everyone involved.”

The win marked the ninth WPIAL championship for New Castle. The ’Canes became the first school to win WPIAL titles in consecutive years going undefeated, as well as earning WPIAL gold in different classifications in back-to-back years.

“I don’t know that anyone realizes what we’ve done,” Blundo said. “It’s obviously never happened.

“These are young kids with young minds. They know they really worked hard to accomplish something special.”

The Talbots’ 53 total points represents their third-lowest scoring output of the season. The second-lowest came against New Castle in a 54-50 loss on Feb. 8.

New Castle (26-0), ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class AAAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and No. 5 in the state by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, will face Gateway (16-6) in the first round of the state playoffs. The ’Canes rolled past the Gators in the district quarterfinals, 87-55. The game is set for 3 p.m. Saturday at North Allegheny High School.

“Gateway is a really talented ballclub,” Blundo said. “On that particular night, we played some really good basketball against them.”

The Talbots (21-5) will battle Perry at 2 p.m. Saturday at Allderdice.

Anderson not only led New Castle in scoring, but in trips to the locker room. The senior guard/forward and Navy recruit left the floor a few times to change his shorts, which were covered in blood. Anderson had scrapes on his knees from diving after loose balls and a small cut on his wrist.

“I couldn’t catch a break,” Anderson said. “I started bleeding on my wrist. Then my knees started bleeding. The littlest cuts obviously are the worst for me. I had to go in and change a few times, but things happen.

“We were fired up. We won the WPIAL title last year and we wanted to feel that again. We go hard every game. But the championship game, we just give a little bit more.”

Anderson tossed in his last field goal with 2:53 to play in the game, putting the ’Canes up 65-39. Blundo subbed him out for the final time shortly after to a chorus of cheers from the New Castle faithful.

“I told Shawn before the game, for us to win this game, you have to have the best defensive game of your life,” Blundo said. “He’s undersized by about five inches on (6-foot-8) Ryan Luther. But he battled and fought all night and did a magnificent job.”

Both teams started slow, going over 2 1/2 minutes without scoring a point. The ’Canes Brandon Domenick ended that drought when he buried a 3-pointer with 5:21 to go in the period. It proved to be a lead New Castle wouldn’t relinquish.

“We got a couple of good looks. They just didn’t go in,” Blundo said. “After that first one went in, it just seemed to snowball from there.”

The triple propelled the ’Canes on an 11-3 run, but Hampton fought back and closed to 15-10 after the first quarter.

The Talbots, who turned the ball over 18 times compared to nine for New Castle, did pull to within 16-15 on a Ryan Luther dunk and 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions. He finished with a game-high 17 points, while grabbing nine rebounds, and he was the only Hampton player to score in double figures.

But Luther’s buckets only fueled New Castle’s fire, particularly Anthony Richards. Richards drained three 3-pointers in a span of 1:11 to push the lead to 25-18.

“All the shots over the summer paid off,” Richards said. “My guys were penetrating and finding me.

“I just happened to make them tonight. I happened to get hot. It was a good night to get hot at the Palumbo Center.”

Said Domenick, “When my man is on, he’s on. I was finding him and he was hitting them. I’m just going to keep finding him. I’m just going to keep throwing it to him. I have a lot of faith in Anthony Richards.”

All 12 of Richards’ points came on 3s and they all came in the first half. The ’Canes made 12 3-pointers in 22 attempts for the game.

“Anthony Richards was a big part of their success from the outside,” Hampton coach Joe Lafko said of Richards’ shooting. “New Castle has a lot of ways to exploit you and if you’re not sharp in any area, they will exploit you. Today was another example of that.

“If you don’t take care of the ball, they will turn you over and score. If you don’t get back in transition, they will score. If you don’t find their shooters, they will knock down shots.”

Blundo recognized the importance of Richards’ hot hand.

“What that did is it forced them to extend the zone a little further than they wanted to,” Blundo said of Richards’ 3s. “It got us to get more interior looks.

“We didn’t want to be in a situation where we’re shooting 30 3s in the game.”

Hampton cut it again to five at 25-20, but New Castle sprinted to the break on an 11-2 spurt for a 36-22 halftime advantage.

“Our message at the half was two more great quarters and we’ll accomplish something nobody has ever done before,” Blundo said.

Though there was still 16 more minutes left to be played, the ’Canes stuck to their coach’s words.

“Coach Blundo, every halftime he tells us the first four minutes are big,” Domenick said. “The first four minutes of every single game and the first four minutes of every third quarter, we come out and we try to put the nail in the coffin.”

Antonio Rudolph went to work with his hammer starting in the third quarter. Rudolph, who scored 15 points — all in the second half — tallied 10 of those markers in the third quarter. His field goal 16 seconds into the third period opened the second-half scoring and gave New Castle a 38-22 advantage.

“We knew what we were doing wrong,” Rudolph said of the first half. “We knew we had to go out and pick it up and bring out that energy that we had in the first half. All of our leaders, we just have to step it up and that’s what we did. The whole team.”

Joey Lafko, the coach’s son, cashed in a 3-pointer with 6:17 remaining in the third to trim Hampton’s deficit to 38-27. But it was the closest the Talbots got the rest of the way.

Rudolph swished two 3-pointers for the ’Canes in the final 1:14 and Hooker added one of his own at the two-minute mark, lifting New Castle to a 52-32 advantage after three periods.

“That 3 came from us shooting plenty of shots at practice,” Hooker said of his trifecta. “They were in that zone for the majority of the game. When we started hitting 3s, that forced them to come out of the zone and caused them to guard us man.”

Hooker was the fourth New Castle player to hit double figures, finishing with 11 points to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

“It seems like it’s been like that all year,” Blundo said of the balance. “We’ve had eight different guys score in double figures throughout the year.

“That was really great to get that balance on Saturday. That’s what makes us difficult to guard; you have to guard everyone.”

The fourth quarter served as a coronation for the ’Canes.

New Castle’s lead swelled to as much as 26 at 65-39 with 2:53 on a bucket by Anderson.

“We get excited for big games,” Anderson said. “Obviously Hampton is great competition for us. We found a way to win. Every game we play against them, whether we win by four or we win by 20, it’s a tough game for three quarters but somehow we pull it out.”

****IN MONDAY’S PRINT EDITION: Be sure to pick up a copy of our collectible four-page special section from the WPIAL championship game!
Game Scoreboard
New Castle 15 21 16 16 0 68
Hampton 10 12 10 21 0 53
Box Scores
Jon Floss 2 0-0 4
Ryan Luther 5 6-10 17
Collin Luther 1 0-1 2
Joey Lafko 1 0-0 3
David Huber 3 1-2 8
Jack Obringer 1 0-0 3
Jake Adams 1 0-0 2
Richard Ford 4 1-1 9
Hayden Seserko 1 1-2 3
Trace McConnell 0 0-0 0
Tom Radziminski 0 2-2 2.
Totals: 19 11-18 53.

Brandon Domenick 2 1-2 7
Antonio Rudolph 5 2-2 15
Shawn Anderson 5 5-8 16
Anthony Richards 4 0-0 12
Malik Hooker 3 4-7 11
Jesse Salzano 1 0-0 3
Stew Allen 0 0-0 0
Drew Allen 1 2-3 4
Tyler Fitzpatrick 0 0-2 0
Micah Fulena 0 0-2 0
Levar Ware 0 0-0 0
Jake McPhatter 0 0-0 0
Robert Natale 0 0-0 0.
Totals: 21 14-26 68.

HAMPTON 10 12 10 21 — 53
NEW CASTLE 15 21 16 16 — 68
3-point goals — Hampton 4 (R. Luther 1, Lafko 1, Huber 1, Obringer 1); New Castle 12 (Domenick 2, Rudolph 3, Anderson 1, Richards 4, Hooker 1, Salzano 1).
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