Fantastic finish
New Castle (66) Vs. Hampton (55)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News

New Castle High boys basketball standout Malik Hooker has dazzled fans at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House for four years.

Last night, he provided the Red Hurricane faithful with one more memorable moment.

Hooker drove in and converted a layup in traffic, adding the foul shot for a three-point play with 59.2 seconds to go. The key bucket which provided an eight-point lead helped New Castle secure a 66-55 WPIAL Section 3-AAAA home win over Hampton in front of a standing-room-only crowd.

“That basket was huge,” ’Canes coach Ralph Blundo said. “He had said to me when we were in our spread, and the kids know they can go. He said ‘coach, I know I can get there. I can get to the cup.’ He went in and made a great play that great players make.”

New Castle (14-0 section, 21-0 overall), the two-time defending WPIAL champions, has defeated Hampton each of the past two seasons for the district title.

The ’Canes are ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class AAAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and No. 2 in the state by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg. New Castle ran its home winning streak to 34 straight and its section winning streak to 41. The ’Canes, who have won 77 of their last 79 games overall, extended their regular-season win streak to 67.

The Talbots (11-3, 19-3) are ranked No. 3 in the WPIAL by the Post-Gazette and No. 5 in the state.

“Considering the fact that they have the two-year undefeated winning streak and considering the fact they’re reigning WPIAL champions against us, I think it’s a huge task to beat them,” said Hampton coach and former Westminster College standout Joe Lafko. “New Castle is an exceptionally athletic team. If you look at one of the big differences in wins and losses against them, it’s because of the credit of New Castle’s athleticism. They get to loose balls. They go through traps and are able to finish. They’re aggressive on the boards. It’s not just one or two guys, it’s a cumulative affect. Give those guys a lot of credit.”

Hooker’s bucket on a driving, double-clutch layup, pushed New Castle’s lead to 60-52.

“At that point in the game, I was in my zone and it just felt like it was me here,” said Hooker, a senior and Ohio State University recruit. “I felt like I couldn’t let my team lose. At that point, I was just doing what a leader does and just leading my team to the victory.”

Said Lafko, “That play right there was a backbreaker. Here you have a kid going to the basket at a pretty high rate of speed late in the game. He’s able to control his body and finish a shot, get fouled and still make the layup. That’s an incredible athletic move. That’s not the only athletic play he made, but that play was a backbreaker. Our guys’ heads went down as soon as that happened.”

Hooker stole the ball at the other end with 50 seconds to play and was driving in for a potential breakaway dunk when he was fouled from behind by Jack Obringer. The officials called an intentional foul and Hooker drained both freebies for a 62-52 margin with 43.1 seconds remaining.

New Castle led 30-23 at the half and took its biggest buffer at 43-29 with 3:52 left in the third. The ’Canes settled for a 48-37 margin going to the fourth frame.

“We thought the first four minutes of the third was very important,” Blundo said. “I thought we made a couple of big shots early to stretch it out a little.”

The Talbots opened the final quarter with a pair of field goals to close to 48-41 with 7:12 left.

“Hampton is not going to go away. We know that,” Blundo said. “They’ve been through the wars before. They’ve been in plenty of games with us. We knew they were going to fight all 32 minutes and they did.”

The Talbots got within 55-51 with 1:55 to go and Stew Allen increased the advantage to 57-51 on a reverse layup with 1:21 to play.

New Castle was 18 of 27 from the foul line, including 10 of 16 in the fourth quarter to secure the victory. Hooker was 10 of 13 at the stripe for the game and 7 of 9 in the fourth quarter.

“Down the stretch, we did hit some big ones,” Blundo said. “Malik had the ball in his hands a lot down the stretch and he knocked them down.”

Hooker paced the ’Canes with 27 points, 11 rebounds and four assists. He was 8 of 12 from the field. Allen was next with 14 markers and seven rebounds, while Jake McPhatter chipped in with 10 tallies and four boards.

Ryan Luther, a 6-foot-8 senior and Pitt recruit who missed the previous encounter with a sprained ankle, tossed in a game-high 28 points, including 18 in the second half.

“Ryan gives us our inside presence,” Lafko said. “Ryan certainly is a player that we rely on for a lot of scoring and he’s our leading rebounder.”

Said Blundo, “He got to the block a few times and was able to finish. When he missed, he was able to get offensive rebounds and he was able to finish. He’s a great player.”

New Castle returns to action at 7:30 p.m. Monday at home against Central Valley in a nonsection matchup to close out the regular season. The Warriors (18-2) are ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL in Class AAA by the Post-Gazette.

The WPIAL will announce its playoff pairings Tuesday.

Game Scoreboard
New Castle 11 19 18 18 0 66
Hampton 10 13 14 18 0 55
Box Scores
Jack Obringer 0 0-1 0
Joey Lafko 2 0-0 5
David Huber 5 1-1 14
Collin Luther 3 2-2 8
Ryan Luther 9 10-13 28
Jack Morrison 0 0-0 0
Hayden Seserko 0 0-0 0
Totals: 19 13-17 55

Anthony Richards 2 0-1 6
Malik Hooker 8 10-13 27
Jake McPhatter 2 4-5 10
Stew Allen 5 4-8 14
Drew Allen 3 0-0 7
Levar Ware 1 0-0 2
Robert Natale 0 0-0 0
Totals: 21 18-27 66

HAMPTON 10 13 14 18 — 55
NEW CASTLE 11 19 18 18 — 66

3-point goals — Hampton 4 (Huber 3, Lafko 1), New Castle 6 (McPhatter 2, Richards 2, D. Allen 1, Hooker 1).
JV score: New Castle 55, Hampton 53. High scorer: NC — Marquel Hooker 11, Gino DeMonaco 10, Robert Natale 10, Micah Fulena 10.
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