’Canes dispatch NA; await next foe
New Castle (64) Vs. North Allegheny (54)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News

AMBRIDGE — New Castle High boys basketball coach Ralph Blundo knew his team’s interior defense would get a challenge last night.

Red Hurricane senior Stew Allen was up to the task.

Allen limited North Allegheny’s inside force Elijah Zeise to just one point in helping New Castle to a 64-54 PIAA Class AAAA second-round win in front of a packed crowd at Ambridge High School.

“Stew did a great job of finishing (last night),” Blundo said. “He rebounded the ball pretty well. He played a good game. He’s a warrior.

“He’s been through this before. You just know what you’re getting from him. He’s going to be where he’s supposed to be. He’s sound and he’s going to finish layups.”

The ’Canes (28-0) advanced to the state quarterfinals and will meet the winner of tonight’s Hampton-Erie McDowell matchup Saturday at a time and site to be determined.

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 Patriot-News of Harrisburg. The ’Canes have won 48-straight games against WPIAL teams dating back to a 50-43 loss to Montour in the second round of the state playoffs in the 2011-2012 season. New Castle has won 84 of its last 86 games. The ’Canes also climbed in the national rankings, moving from No. 36 to No. 34 in the USA Today poll.

The state’s top-ranked team — Philadelphia Roman Catholic — was eliminated last night by Lower Merion, 64-52.

Allen posted 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting with 10 rebounds. Zeise was just 1 of 4 at the foul line, with his one marker coming in the third quarter. Zeise was in foul trouble throughout, picking up his fourth with 3:46 to go in the third quarter.

“I just wanted to play tough defense going into the game,” Allen said. “Coach Blundo kept telling me all week that I have to get Elijah Zeise out of the post. He can hurt us a lot. I just basically focused my whole game on him; not let him get any rebounds.

“I didn’t even go for the rebounds, I was more focused on getting him out of there so my teammates could get the rebound.”

Zeise, a 6-foot-3 senior forward who signed a national letter of intent to play wide receiver at Pitt, came in averaging 11 points a game.

“Zeise is such a great position defender all over the floor for them,” Blundo said. “We thought a couple of times when he was out of the game for them we were able to get some things on the block done. Zeise is really good at getting position defensively.”

The win marked the second-straight year that New Castle knocked off North Allegheny three times, including in the second round of the state playoffs.

“They’re a really good basketball team,” Blundo said. “We know what we’re going to get when we play them. It’s going to be a tough basketball game. Even games that we’ve won by 14, 12, whatever, we’ve had to fight like heck to beat them.”

The ’Canes, who never trailed, held three five-point leads in the first quarter, including the last of the stanza at 16-11. New Castle held its largest lead of the frame at 10-4.

“We’re both experienced teams. There weren’t any nerves by either team,” said New Castle senior guard Anthony Richards. “It was two teams playing unbelievably hard.

“They did exactly what they do to everybody else. We were ready for that and they were ready for us.”

Richards registered nine points and four assists for the winners.

New Castle’s defense turned up the pressure in the second quarter, forcing 11 turnovers. The Tigers (22-5) finished with 18 for the half and the ’Canes held a 34-21 margin at the break.

North Allegheny turned it over 25 times total.

“We were just playing really hard defensively,” Blundo said. “I thought Drew (Allen) got himself in good positions a bunch of times throughout the course of the game.

“The same thing with Jake (McPhatter). He did a great job defensively. I think this is the third time he’s guarded Joe Mancini. I don’t know what Mancini’s point total is, but it’s not very high.”

Mancini finished with just two points on a fourth-quarter field goal.

North Allegheny managed to stay within striking distance in the second period, before the ’Canes were able to push the lead into double figures. New Castle was able to force a turnover by outworking the Tigers for a 50-50 ball. Stew Allen turned that into a field goal with 1:45 to play in the half and a 28-19 margin. Robert Natale pushed the buffer to 30-19 when he drained a pair of foul shots six seconds later.

“Those loose balls get you extra possessions and we got them tonight on a lot of occasions,” Blundo said. “That’s one reason why we won this game.”

New Castle extended the advantage to 34-21 at the break.

Malik Hooker scored 12 of his team-high 22 points in the first half. He was 9 of 12 from the floor with 14 rebounds, seven assists and four steals.

“Getting that lead into double figures was actually a good thing,” Hooker said. “When we got the cushion, we controlled the game the rest of the way. We were making a lot of great plays, a lot of great passes and a lot of great finishes.”

Hooker, an Ohio State University football recruit, went through pre-game warmup with his right hand wrapped after falling on it in the first-round win over Bethel Park. He took the wrapping off early in the game.

“My wrist is still sore,” Hooker said. “I wasn’t really comfortable with (the wrapping). I took it off and just played through it.”

Said Blundo, “I thought Malik played great. He made good decisions and he rebounded the basketball. It was an excellent game. He hurt his wrist against Bethel Park when he fell to the floor contesting a 3-point shot. I predicted that the wrap would be off by halftime. I was wrong. It was off midway through the first quarter.”

The ’Canes took their largest lead of the game at 42-25 with 4:56 to go in the third on a bucket by Hooker.

But North Allegheny was able to battle back, closing to 44-31 after three periods. New Castle scored its last points of the quarter on a putback by Levar Ware with 3:23 to go for a 44-29 advantage.

“Sometimes the ball doesn’t go in the hoop,” Blundo simply stated of the drought.

Said Richards, “I didn’t know that (the scoring drought). We looked at each other after the third quarter and we said we needed one more quarter of great defense and we’ll win this game.”

Jake McPhatter’s 3-pointer just 38 seconds into the final quarter broke the scoring drought for the ’Canes and pushing the count to 47-33.

Stew Allen scored seven of his points in the final frame as New Castle closed out the win to reach the quarterfinals.

“I have my days,” he said. “I knew I had to step up this year. Everyone kept telling me this was my year. Ever since I got hurt and came back, I was focused on getting back to where I am. I think I’m back to how I used to be and I’m glad I could help my team out.”

Cole Constantino poured in a game-high 32 points to lead the Tigers. He tossed in 16 markers in each half, including 11 tallies in the fourth quarter.

“He just made a bunch of shots,” Richards said. “He played great tonight.”

The Tigers have lost 10 total games the last two seasons, six came against New Castle and four came against Hampton.
Game Scoreboard
New Castle 16 18 10 20 0 64
North Allegheny 11 10 10 23 0 54
Box Scores
Elijah Zeise 0 1-4 1
David Hause 3 0-2 7
Michael Carter 2 0-0 6
Cole Constantino 11 6-8 32
Joe Mancini 1 0-0 2
Luke Gwaltney 2 0-0 4
Mike Fischer 1 0-0 2
Griffin Sestili 0 0-0 0
Will Sandherr 0 0-0 0.
Totals: 20 7-14 54.

Anthony Richards 3 1-2 9
Malik Hooker 9 4-7 22
Jake McPhatter 3 0-0 7
Stew Allen 5 2-4 12
Drew Allen 2 3-9 7
Micah Fulena 0 0-0 0
Levar Ware 1 0-0 2
Robert Natale 1 2-2 5.
Totals: 24 12-24 64.
N. ALLEGHENY 11 10 10 23 — 54
NEW CASTLE 16 18 10 20 — 64
3-point goals — North Allegheny 7 (Haus 1, Carter 2, Constantino 4), New Castle 4 (McPhatter 1, Richards 2, Natale 1).

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