New Castle’s pressure key in win over West Middles
New Castle (85) Vs. West Middlesex (45)
By Joe Sager
New Castle News
Faces and names might change, but one thing remains the same with New Castle High boys basketball — pressure, pressure, pressure.
The Red Hurricane’s signature pressure defense was on display last night as the squad blitzed West Middlesex, 85-45, in the first round of the New Castle Tipoff Tournament.
New Castle rode its defense and explosive offense to WPIAL championships the past two seasons. With starters Shawn Anderson, Brandon Domenick and Antonio Rudolph graduated, the latest ’Canes edition showed it can still play some serious “D” on the floor.
“How hard we play, that won’t change no matter who is on the floor or how good the players are. It’s just always going to be the same,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “I thought our defensive pressure was pretty good most of the night and forced them to play a bit faster than they would have liked.”
New Castle hopes to continue its strong defense at 7:30 p.m. today when the ’Canes (1-0) meet Perry Traditional Academy, a 52-31 winner over St. Mary’s (Md.), in the championship clash.
“They had some guys move in and merged some schools in Pittsburgh. Clearly, they are a good basketball team and a much better basketball team than last year,” Blundo said. “They are big and athletic, so we’ll have to execute our stuff well.”
New Castle’s defensive execution stifled the Big Reds (0-1), who meet St. Mary’s in the 3:30 p.m. consolation. The ’Canes forced 11 turnovers in the first quarter and posted a 22-9 lead. They caused nine more in the second quarter and rolled to a 50-23 halftime advantage.
“That was a pretty good game, but I still think we had a lot of little mistakes that are fixable. It wasn’t our best game, but you can’t be mad about a win like that,” New Castle’s Malik Hooker said. “That’s a pretty young (West Middlesex) team, so I am sure they weren’t used to pressure like that. I feel that they are still going to be a good team and they’ll do some damage in Double-A. Our pressure was pretty good. There are still a lot of things to fix, though.”
New Castle’s aggressiveness was too much, at times, as the team got in foul trouble early. West Middlesex was in the bonus with 1:01 remaining in the first quarter. The Big Reds were limited to six field goals in the first half, but went to the charity stripe 13 times and cashed in on 10 freebies.
“That first game is always an exciting game for the guys. I thought West Middlesex did some good things defensively early on. We were able to adjust a couple of things and eventually got more comfortable against it,” Blundo said. “We probably fouled a little more than what we would have liked. I think that’s a byproduct of just being early in the season.”
Hooker sparked the ’Canes offense. He poured in 34 points, including 19 in the first half.
“We lost a big part of our team with the guys who graduated last year,” he said. “As seniors, we had to come out and step up.”
The ’Canes built their lead to 40 points late in the third quarter, which enacted the mercy rule.
Even though Anthony Richards and Hooker were the team’s lone returning starters, those stepping into expanded roles this year felt comfortable because of the hard work and competition that takes place every time New Castle’s players get together.
“I don’t know about anybody else’s practices, but our practices are intense every single day,” said Jake McPhatter, who moved into a starting role and finished with 10 points. “It doesn’t matter if you’re tired or how late or early it is, we get after it every single day. Every day, we work harder and harder. We mix it up and we go battle for battle against everybody on the team. Everybody gets better every day. It’s all business, so we just need to keep working like that and it paid off for us.”
The ’Canes extended their home winning streak to 26 games. Their last loss came on Jan. 15, 2011, in an 85-83 setback to Sharon. They hope to push it to 27 tonight.
“Perry is a pretty big and athletic team, but we feel we’ll come out and be ready. We know it’s going to be a good game,” Hooker said. “We just have to come out and play New Castle Red Hurricane basketball.”
Robert Natale and Stew Allen added eight points for New Castle, while Drew Allen tossed in seven.
Trey Staunch had 18 points for West Middlesex.