Icing on the cake
New Castle (63) Vs. North Allegheny (41)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
The New Castle High boys basketball team gave coach Ralph Blundo quite the 41st birthday present last night.
Another Red Hurricane blowout victory.
New Castle scored the game’s first 14 points and put it in cruise control from there in a 63-41 WPIAL Section 3-AAAA win over North Allegheny in front of a packed crowd at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House.
“There’s truly only a couple of things that I want going into a game,” Blundo said. “The ball going in the basket isn’t one of them. A dunk isn’t one of them. All I want is 32 minutes of the best focus and energy that we can provide and give during the course of the game.
“I thought tonight it was 32 minutes of excellent, excellent defense and focus from gun to gun.”
New Castle (6-0 section, 11-0 overall) is ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class AAAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and No. 3 in the state by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg. The Tigers (4-2, 10-2) are ranked No. 3 in the WPIAL by the Post-Gazette and No. 7 in the state.
“I know I have great senior leadership and guys that have been through the wars of big games,” Blundo said. “They look forward to these games more than anything.”
The ’Canes, who are the two-time defending WPIAL champions, ran their home winning streak to 31 straight and their section winning streak to 33. The ’Canes, who have won 67 of their last 69 games overall, extended their regular-season win streak to 53.
“I think that we have the best home court advantage in all of the WPIAL,” Blundo said of the crowd. “Our kids feed off of it. Playing in front of 2,000 people can be difficult for some teams. It can make you a bit uncomfortable.”
New Castle senior Anthony Richards, who netted 19 points, noted his team’s focus amid the playoff-like atmosphere of the contest.
“Without all the fans, you really don’t know because you’re so focused on your jobs and assignments,” he said. “You really don’t know until it’s all over.”
The ’Canes held a 16-6 lead after one quarter and the Tigers cut it to 19-12 with 5:35 to play in the opening half. But the guests didn’t get any closer the rest of the way.
“It was a combination of things,” Blundo said of his team’s early lead. “We kept getting stops. We got a couple of turnovers and we made some shots. You do those three things and finish plays, you’re going to win the basketball game.”
New Castle pushed the lead to 35-21 at the break.
The ’Canes put the game away by scoring the first 15 points of the third for a 50-21 lead with 2:30 left in the frame. Richards culminated the spurt with a deep trifecta.
Richards made seven field goals, five of which were behind the arc.
“The way NA started playing in the beginning of the game, they were doing their usual, they were kind of chasing a little bit,” Richards said. “When you play like that, people get open. My guys found me. I knocked a couple down.”
North Allegheny tossed up a whopping 53 3-pointers in a Dec. 28 win over Gateway (82-68). Last night, the ’Canes made sure to pay special attention to the Tigers’ outside threat. North Allegheny was just 1 of 10 from the outside against the ’Canes.
“We didn’t want to give them one open look,” Richards said. “We wanted to close out, high hands and we did a pretty good job of that. That’s one of the reasons we played so well.”
Blundo said his team prepared diligently for the Tigers’ outside threat.
“We work hard on closeouts every day,” he said. “On Thursday, we worked extra hard on closeouts because we knew we had to close out on shooters and we did that. The few that they got off, they had to rush. It’s a lot more difficult with a hand in your face. That was our goal going into the game. We wanted to contest all shots.”
The win keeps New Castle tied atop the section standings with Hampton (6-0, 13-0) and pushes North Allegheny two games behind.
“This is a big win for us,” the ’Canes’ Malik Hooker said. “We knew they would come out and be scrappy and chippy. We felt like we had to come out here and play the perfect game.
“Having that cushion is a great thing. North Allegheny is a great team. They’re one of the top teams in our section. They can play. We knew coming into this game that we had to play hard and leave everything out on the floor.”
Hooker registered a game-high 20 points, 16 coming in the first half.
“I love the way he competes,” Blundo said of Hooker. “He’s always calm, cool, collected throughout the course of the game. He makes great decisions.”
Stew Allen started, but played just two minutes before a back injury flared up. Levar Ware came on in relief and played strong throughout, swatting at least four shots and netting four markers.
“Levar played excellent,” Blundo said. “To step in and fill Stew’s shoes is not an easy thing to do. Stew is a guy you can always count on. We worked hard to get him ready.”
Drew Allen, Stew’s brother, added 15 markers for the victors.
New Castle returns to action at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at section rival Hampton, which is ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL and No. 2 in the state. The ’Canes knocked off the Talbots, who are coached by former Westminster College standout Joe Lafko, each of the last two years for the WPIAL championship. The game is sold out. Hampton’s Ryan Luther, a Pitt recruit, missed the last two games with a sprained ankle but is expected to be ready Tuesday.”
“They have a couple of great players and we’ve built a great rivalry with them,” Blundo said. “We’ll prepare for Luther to play.”