Hooker, ’Canes slam Bethel Park
New Castle (73) Vs. Bethel Park (46)
By Joe Sager
New Castle News

Malik Hooker hopes to make a living out of interceptions one day.

On Saturday, the Ohio State football recruit’s pick off of a pass and subsequent thunderous tomahawk dunk was pure money for the New Castle High boys basketball team.

It helped spark a furious second quarter as the Red Hurricane pulled away for a 73-46 triumph over Bethel Park in a WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinal.

New Castle (24-0) moves on to face Kiski, an 82-73 overtime winner over Gateway, at 8 p.m. Wednesday at North Allegheny in a semifinal showdown.

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 Harrisburg Patriot-News. In addition, the team checks in at No. 41 in the updated USA Today poll. New Castle has won 44-straight games against WPIAL teams and 10-straight WPIAL playoff contests. Overall, the ’Canes have won 80 of their last 82 games.

Drew Allen’s 3-pointer at the buzzer gave New Castle a 14-10 edge over the Black Hawks (18-6) in a close first quarter.

“(Bethel Park coach Ben O’Connor) really had guys in the right places and the team was doing some good things early on,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “We needed that separation to get them to chase us a little bit.”

Enter Hooker. About 30 seconds into the second quarter, he stepped in front of a Bethel Park pass near midcourt and raced in alone toward the basket. He elevated and delivered a thunderous slam dunk to bring the crowd to an intense roar.

“Absolutely, it got us going. The momentum changes like that,” New Castle’s Anthony Richards said. “We made a couple mistakes defensively in the first quarter. After that first quarter, we adjusted and came out and we just laid it on them. The energy we came out with was unbelievable. We hit a couple shots, created a couple turnovers and just went from there.”

Hooker’s dunk boosted the ’Canes’ lead to 16-10, but it served as an omen of what was to come. New Castle blew away Bethel Park in the second quarter, 23-4.

“I felt like I didn’t come out playing as hard (in the first) and I wanted to come out and redeem myself. Once I got that dunk, everybody started running,” Hooker said. “We came out and gave it our all. Defense turned into offense and we just kept playing. Before we knew it, we were up by 20.”

Following Hooker’s powerful jam, the ’Canes forced turnovers on the Black Hawks’ next four possessions and scored off each one. Bethel Park’s Dan Breit cut the deficit to 23-14 with 3:42 left in the half, but New Castle delivered three uppercuts before Hooker dealt the knockout blow.

Robert Natale came off the bench to hit a pair of 3-pointers and Richards dialed in from long distance with a record-breaking trey to push the lead to 32-14 with 40 seconds to play. Following a loose ball scramble under the Bethel Park basket, Richards snagged the ball and tossed a pass to Allen, who saw Hooker cutting along the left baseline and lofted a pass from the 3-point line over two defenders. Hooker went airborne, caught the ball and threw down a two-handed alley-oop jam. In the process he “posterized” one of the Black Hawks defenders who went up to defend the dunk, but ran into Hooker and fell helplessly to the court. The crowd gave Hooker, who converted the subsequent free throw as well, and the team a standing ovation.

“It’s a great thing, especially when you look around and the fans are up there chanting and everybody is into it. There’s no better feeling,” Hooker said. “When something like that happens, it’s not like you’re going against the other team. It’s you and your fans going against the other team. That definitely is a big part in a basketball game. We have a lot of fans out there supporting us and it eventually gets to the other team.”

Following a turnover, Micah Fulena added a quick hoop before the buzzer and New Castle went to the lockerroom with a 37-14 lead and the crowd still going berserk.

“We hit a couple shots and then Malik had that alley-oop to top it off. It was great,” Richards said. “I’ve been playing my whole career with him and I have seen that all the time. So, it’s really not that unusual to us, but it was unbelievable.”

The ’Canes’ defense was suffocating in that second period.

“I thought we played well. We were really clicking. Guys were in the right places and guys were finishing. That big dunk by Malik really got us going,” Blundo said. “Robert’s two big 3s in the corner were really huge, too. Anthony hit a 3. It was just a good quarter of basketball. But, more importantly, we just guarded tremendously that quarter. We didn’t have to score a lot of points to have a great quarter because we guarded really, really well.”

New Castle cruised in the second half to earn the win, which was the 100th for Blundo (100-10) in his four years leading the ’Canes. Overall, his coaching record is a sparkling 126-12. He went 26-2 in one year (1998-99) guiding George Junior Republic in Grove City.

“What’s special about that is the time I’ve been able to spend with these guys,” Blundo said. “For me, the wins are fun. That’s 100 games, but we’ve had 2,000 practices and that’s what’s been a joy.”

Richards, who finished with 11 points, swished three treys to set the program’s single-season 3-point mark. He has 87 on the season and owns the program record for most 3s in a game (9) and career 3s (290) as well.

Eddie Pagley owned the previous mark of 84 long-distance dial-ups in the 1998-99 season.

“It’s nice, but at this point of the season, I could care less about it,” Richards said. “I am worried about preparing for Kiski to get one step closer to where we want to go.”

Hooker led all scorers with 20 points to push his career total to 1,514 points, which surpassed Shawn Anderson’s career mark of 1,496 from a year ago.  

“With winning and with great team accomplishments comes great individual accomplishments and I congratulate both of those guys for that,” Blundo said. “It’s all about hard work and those guys know that being of a really, really good team helps.”

Stew Allen added 13 points for the ’Canes, while Jake McPhatter had nine and Drew Allen added seven.

Joe Mascaro topped Bethel Park with 17 points.
Game Scoreboard
New Castle 14 23 15 21 0 73
Bethel Park 10 4 18 14 0 46
Box Scores
Joe Mascaro 7 3-3 17
Anthony Bomar 1 0-0 3
Quentin Keibler 1 0-0 2
Levi Metheny 3 2-2 10
Jake Dixon 2 3-4 7
Josh Krafczynski 2 1-2 5
Dan Breit 1 0-0 2.
Totals: 17 9-11 46.

Micah Fulena 1 0-0 2
Anthony Richards 3 2-2 11
Malik Hooker 8 4-4 20
Jake McPhatter 4 0-0 9
Stew Allen 5 3-4 13
Drew Allen 1 4-6 7
Levar Ware 0 0-0 0
Robert Natale 2 0-0 6
Gino DeMonaco 1 2-2 5
Marquel Hooker 0 0-0 0
Pat Minenok 0 0-0 0.
Totals: 25 15-18 73.
BETHEL PARK 10 4 18 14 — 46
NEW CASTLE 14 23 15 21 — 73
3-point goals — Bethel Park 3 (Metheny 2, Bomar 1), New Castle 8 (Richards 3, Natale 2, D. Allen 1, McPhatter 1, DeMonaco 1).
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