PIAA Playoffs: ’Canes grind out win; NA up next
New Castle (71) Vs. Bethel Park (64)
By Joe Sager
New Castle News

BRIDGEVILLE — New tournament, same result. 

New Castle High began its quest for a boys basketball state championship Saturday with a 71-64 triumph over Bethel Park in a PIAA Class AAAA first-round battle at Chartiers Valley High School.

The Red Hurricane (27-0) meets North Allegheny (22-4), an 82-57 winner over Altoona, at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Ambridge in a PIAA second-round clash.

New Castle, which has won 83 of its last 85 games and is ranked second in the state by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, struggled offensively Saturday. The ’Canes had no problem creating chances, but did not convert with their usual precision. The team made 24 of its 61 shots (39 percent) from the field.

“I thought we were playing hard; we just weren’t doing good things. We just weren’t really, really sharp and made some bad decisions. We’ll work on it this week and try to improve,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “We won the basketball game and that’s the bottom line. When you’re in the state tournament, it’s survive and advance. Play the game, win the game, move on to the next game. We’ll fix some things that we didn’t do quite so well in practice and we’ll look at it on film. Style points don’t count.”

As always, though, New Castle’s defense was sharp. It created six turnovers in the first quarter to help the ’Canes post a 17-16 lead at the buzzer. The defense produced 10 more takeaways in the second to help the team grab a 32-25 halftime advantage.

“We weren’t finishing like we normally do. You could say it was frustrating for all of us. It was kind of getting to us and it was kind of making us make other mistakes as we weren’t finishing on the offensive end,” New Castle’s Stew Allen said. “I am glad we were able to pick it back up and get on a roll. If we’re not finishing, that means we have to play tougher defense. The best offense is a good defense. I thought we played good defense.”

New Castle’s offense came alive to start the third quarter. The team opened the frame with a 14-2 run and had a 51-31 lead at the horn.

The ’Canes beat the Black Hawks (18-7), 73-46, in the WPIAL quarterfinals. Saturday’s game appeared headed in the same direction heading into the fourth. However, Bethel Park junior Joey Mascaro got hot. The smooth guard, who had 17 in the teams’ first meeting, seemingly hit every shot he took and tallied 23 of his game-high 38 points in the team’s 33-point quarter. The outburst helped Bethel Park more than double its offensive output (31 points) through the first three stanzas.

“They really shot it great down the stretch. Credit to Bethel Park because they just kept playing to the very end. That’s what good competitors do and it doesn’t surprise me with the team Ben (O’Connor) is coaching,” Blundo said. “We knew that coming in (Mascaro) was good. We thought he was really good on film. We thought he was really good the first time we played him. He played sensational, not good — sensational. That’s a big credit to him to come out in an elimination game and put up 38.”

New Castle’s struggles at the foul line, the team made 10 of 21 free throws in the fourth and 18 of 33 in the fray, combined with Mascaro’s hot streak made the game close at the end.

“We weren’t very good at the free-throw line,” Blundo said. “It’s been like that all year. We’ve either been really good or really bad from the line and never in between. We’ll work hard at it. That’s all you can do at this point.”

Malik Hooker led the ’Canes with 27 points, nine assists, six rebounds and three steals. Stew Allen had 16 points and five boards. Jake McPhatter had nine points, while Anthony Richards added eight in the win.

Game Scoreboard
New Castle 17 15 19 20 0 71
Bethel Park 16 9 6 33 0 64
Box Scores
Joey Mascaro 15 5-5 38
Anthony Bomar 3 0-0 6
Levi Metheny 0 1-2 1
Jake Dixon 3 2-2 8
Josh Krafczynski 3 0-0 7
Jake Murphy 1 0-1 2
R.J. Pfeuffer 0 2-2 2
Quentin Kiebler 0 0-0 0.
Totals: 25 10-12 64.

Anthony Richards 3 1-2 8
Malik Hooker 8 11-18 27
Jake McPhatter 3 1-1 9
Stew Allen 6 4-6 16
Drew Allen 1 1-6 5
Levar Ware 2 0-0 4
Robert Natale 1 0-0 3.
Totals: 24 18-33 71.
BETHEL PARK 16 9 6 33 — 64
NEW CASTLE 17 15 19 20 — 71
3-point goals — Bethel Park 4 (Mascaro 3, Krafczynski 1), New Castle 5 (McPhatter 2, D. Allen 1, Richards 1, Natale 1).

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