’Canes roll past Gateway to start PIAA trek
New Castle (68) Vs. Gateway (48)
By Joe Sager
New Castle

WEXFORD — New tournament, same result.

New Castle opened the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs Saturday with a 68-48 win over Gateway at North Allegheny High School.

The Red Hurricane (27-0) moves on to meet North Allegheny, an 84-76 winner over State College, 6 p.m. Wednesday at Slippery Rock University. New Castle beat the Tigers twice already in Section 3 play.

Against the Gators, a team the ’Canes beat, 87-55, in the WPIAL playoffs, New Castle used an early 9-0 run to fuel an 18-12 lead after the first quarter.

“We played so well against them the first time; we felt there had to be a degree of uncertainty for them. We thought if we could get out of the gate early that it’d help our psyche and maybe damage theirs a bit,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “That’s a talented basketball team over there. Basketball is all about matchups and it just appears we’re a bad matchup for them.

“Our players really are focused. I think last year’s playoff run has served us well — just the overall experience and understanding the transition from the WPIAL tournament to the state tournament. We just got out and shot it well early and got after them early.”

The ’Canes ratcheted up the intensity in the second quarter and carried a 43-18 lead into halftime.

After winning the WPIAL title last Saturday and having to wait a week to start the PIAA playoffs, New Castle showed no signs of rust. The ’Canes produced a handful of highlight-reel plays but Malik Hooker’s ranked atop the list.

Following a missed 3-point shot, Hooker, a junior forward, attacked the basket, leaped and snagged a rebound with his left hand and jammed it in all in the same motion.

“When I was standing at the top of the key, Tone (Antonio Rudolph) and I were talking as the play was going on,” Hooker said. “When the rebound came off the rim, Tone told me to go and I did. Tone ended up being the reason why I got that. That was just one of the perfect ones that come off the rim.”

The play energized the packed crowd as it rose and gave New Castle a standing ovation.

“It’s a pretty good feeling because I know that after something like that happens, whoever we’re playing is in for it,” Hooker said. “That’s when Shawn (Anderson) and Brandon (Domenick) and everyone else’s energy goes up after that as well as mine and then we’re a pretty hard team to beat.”

Hooker finished with 15, but he was all over the court blocking, rebounding and grabbing loose balls.

“Two plays before that dunk, he dove for a loose ball that we really, really needed bad, at the moment, to kind of set the tone that we were going to get all those 50-50 balls,” Blundo said. “Then, he gets that dunk and we were in a little bit of a lull at that moment and it just got us going again. He can make those splash plays; I am glad he’s on my team.

“He had a great practice (Friday). He is one of those guys who was really, really good going into the season, but has gotten even better throughout the course of the season,” he continued. “His natural ability is unbelievable and that’s why teams like Penn State and other football teams are on him, but I think he can play basketball at the next level, too. Malik was fabulous.”

The win was Blundo’s 100th as a head coach. He owns a 100-11 career mark. He is 74-9 in three years leading the ’Canes. He went 26-2 in one year (1998-99) guiding George Junior Republic in Grove City.

“That just means I have had really good players. You can’t get there without good players,” he said. “I have never walked onto the floor and didn’t have really good material to work with in our players.”

Shawn Anderson finished with a team-high 18 points, while Anthony Richards added 12 and Antonio Rudolph, who was nursing a sore ankle, added nine.

“Our overall energy was just really good. I look at Tone, who has been struggling with an ankle injury. He re-sprained it a little bit in a scrimmage against West Middlesex (last week) and had to sit out practice the last two days,” Blundo said. “The ability to come out and still be effective when you take away his biggest strength, which is his explosiveness, just speaks volumes to his mental toughness.”
Game Scoreboard
New Castle 18 25 10 15 0 68
Gateway 12 6 12 18 0 48
Box Scores
Shomari Thomas 0 2-2 2
Deon Cottrell-Baker 3 3-6 9
Delvon Randall 8 2-3 20
Dennis Boyce 0 2-2 2
Tom Kromka 3 0-0 6
Daylon Harris 2 2-2 6
Steve Hartnett 1 0-0 3.
Totals: 17 11-15 48.

Brandon Domenick 2 0-0 5
Antonio Rudolph 4 0-0 9
Anthony Richards 4 0-0 12
Shawn Anderson 7 4-5 18
Malik Hooker 6 2-5 15
Drew Allen 1 1-3 4
Jesse Salzano 0 0-0 0
Stew Allen 0 0-0 0
Micah Fulena 0 0-0 0
Jake McPhatter 1 0-0 2
Levar Ware 1 1-1 3
Tyler Fitzpatrick 0 0-1 0
Robert Natale 0 0-1 0.
Totals: 26 8-16 68.

Score by quarters
GATEWAY 12  6  12  18 - 48
NEW CASTLE 18  25  10 15 – 68
3-point goals – Gateway 3 (Randall 2, Hartnett 1), New Castle 8 (Richards 4, Domenick 1, Rudolph 1, Hooker 1, D. Allen 1). 
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