’Canes hungry like the ‘Wolf’ in win
New Castle (85) Vs. Latrobe (66)
By Joe Sager
New Castle News
WEXFORD — When the Wolf runs wild, so does New Castle.

Anthony Richards, also known as “Wolf” to his Red Hurricane teammates, drained a trio of 3-pointers in a crucial third period Saturday to help lead New Castle to an 85-66 win over Latrobe in a WPIAL Class AAAA first-round game at North Allegheny High School.

The ’Canes (23-0) move on to face Bethel Park, a 49-45 winner over Fox Chapel, this coming Saturday at a time and site to be determined by the WPIAL.

“We’re 1-0. That’s what we are right now. It’s a new season. It feels great,” New Castle’s Jake McPhatter said. “From now on, it’s win or go home and we just want to keep winning.”

New Castle is ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class AAAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and No. 2 in the state by the Harrisburg Patriot-News. The ’Canes have won 79 of their last 81 games and 43-straight games against WPIAL teams.

However, beating the Wildcats wasn’t easy. New Castle struggled a bit in the first quarter and trailed, 20-18, at the buzzer.  

“We knew coming in that we were going to be challenged,” McPhatter said. “They came out and got us a little bit. But, we played all four quarters and, together, we got it done.”

The two teams met in last year’s first round at NA, an 85-64 ’Canes win en route to their second-straight WPIAL title. This season’s game was eerily similar. A year ago, the teams were tied, 17-17, at the end of the first quarter.

“I wasn’t surprised because it was the exact same game as last year. They played well last year and they played well again today,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “They have good basketball players and I think that’s obvious. They made some plays. When they were given opportunities, they took advantage of them. I think that’s the difference. It’s one thing to get the opportunity, but you when you get it, you have to knock down shots and they did.”

Latrobe (13-10) built its lead to 22-18 just 24 seconds into the second quarter, but New Castle responded with a 12-0 run to take a 30-22 advantage with 5:10 left in the first half. Drew Allen started the spree with a trey and Malik Hooker followed with a steal and a jam. McPhatter and Hooker added baskets, while Robert Natale swished a pair of free throws and Stew Allen had a freebie in the run.

Undaunted, the Wildcats rallied for a 17-6 march to post a 39-36 lead with 37 seconds left in the half. Hooker retaliated with a bucket and a free throw and then a steal and layup to put the ’Canes ahead, 41-39, at halftime.

“We knew coming into this game it was going to be a battle because it was last year,” Hooker said. “We came out a little sluggish and they jumped out a little early on us. We kept grinding it out. We didn’t make a lot of free throws or finish a lot of shots, but we just kept grinding it out. We started playing great defense and that eventually turned into points and we got rolling.”

Hooker carried the team in the second quarter with 11 of his game-high 31 points. In addition, McPhatter gave New Castle a spark with nine of his 15 points in the first half.

“To be honest, Jake was probably the one who came out the most focused out of all of us,” Hooker said. “He came out and was one of the leaders for us, as he should be as a senior. He came out there and did a great job. He had great energy and intensity and finished a lot of shots and caused a lot of chaos out there.”

Also, McPhatter called upon “Wolf” to take over in the third quarter and the senior sharpshooter answered. Clinging to a 49-45 lead with 5:44 left in the period and Drew Allen on the bench with four fouls, Richards swished a 3-pointer to boost the ’Canes’ lead to 52-45.

“Coming out of halftime, I said, ‘Wolf, I need a big 3 from you,’” said McPhatter, who hit a key 3-pointer earlier in the third as well. “He came down there and hit that big 3 and got the crowd behind us and, from there, we just started rolling.” 

Hooker followed with a quick transition basket to make it a 54-45 game, but Craig Stevens gave the Wildcats a little energy with a hoop and a free throw. But, “Wolf” answered again as his bomb from way downtown sparked New Castle’s 14-4 run to close the quarter with a 68-51 advantage.

“I got some open looks and knocked them down,” Richards said. “That’s a good, well-coached team we played. They came out and made some big shots. They are not going to make many mistakes. Early on, we made some mistakes we normally don’t make. I missed a bunch of shots in the first half and that didn’t help. All in all, we came out in the second half and played better basketball and got the win.”

Richards dialed in from long distance for a third time during that run to close the third stanza. He finished with 11 points. His trio of treys gave him 84 3-pointers on the campaign. He needs three more to surpass Eddie Pagley’s single-season record set in the 1998-99 season.

“He’s been doing that for years now. I can’t tell you how many games in particular here down at North Allegheny where he’s knocked down big 3s for us,” Blundo said.

Stew Allen tallied eight of his 12 points in the fourth quarter to help New Castle pull away for the win.

“Regardless of how the game was going, we never lost our composure,” Hooker said. “We know, eventually, down the line, one of our players on our team is going to make a big play. It just happened to be Anthony’s 3s that just kind of sparked us there.”

The ’Canes helped themselves, too. They went 4 for 12 from the free-throw line in the first half, but 6 for 8 over the final two periods.

“We are not a great free-throw shooting team, but we’re better than that,” Blundo said. “In the second half, we were 4 for 7 from 3-point range and, really, that was the difference. I think we just guarded a little better in the second half and wore them out a little bit.

“The bottom line is, we want to move on,” he continued. “We aren’t worried about how nice it looked. We want to get to the next round and we are.”

Matt Cullen led the Wildcats with 19 points. Sean Graytok had 15.
Game Scoreboard
New Castle 18 23 27 17 0 85
Latrobe 20 19 12 15 0 66
Box Scores
Sean Graytok 5 4-4 15
Matt Dragan 2 0-0 4
Matt Cullen 7 3-4 19
Seth Holler 2 0-0 5
P.J. Self 1 2-2 4
Chad Kissell2 0-0 6
Craig Stevens 2 1-1 5
Jake Biss 0 0-0 0
Austin Butler 3 1-3 8.
Totals: 24 11-14 66

Anthony Richards 4 0-0 11
Malik Hooker 13 5-7 31
Jake McPhatter 6 1-2 15
Stew Allen 5 2-4 12
Drew Allen 4 0-4 10
Levar Ware 1 0-0 2
Robert Natale 1 2-3 4.
Totals: 34 10-20 85.
LATROBE 20  19 12  15  — 6
NEW CASTLE           18 23 27   17 — 85
3-point goals — Latrobe 7 (Cullen 2, Kissell 2, Graytok 1, Holler 1, Butler 1), New Castle 7 (Richards 3, D. Allen 2, McPhatter 2).
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