’Canes heading to Hershey with sweet win
New Castle (58) Vs. Abington (54)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
CHAMBERSBURG — How sweet it is.
The New Castle High boys basketball team is heading to Hershey.
The Red Hurricane built a 13-point fourth quarter lead and surrendered it. But New Castle kept battling and forged a 58-54 PIAA Class AAAA semifinal victory over Abington at Chambersburg High School last night.
“You did such a great job of focusing on this process,” said fourth-year New Castle coach Ralph Blundo to his team after the win in the locker room. “You never focused on the outcome. The outcome just happened.
“Thirty consecutive times. Thirty consecutive times. And this one’s taking us to Hershey.”
Blundo’s inspirational words prompted a round of applause from the players as they started to celebrate their latest victory.
This marks the first trip to the state championship game for New Castle since the 1997-98 season and fourth overall. The ‘Canes never have won state title in basketball.
New Castle (30-0) is ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class AAAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with wins in 86 of its last 88 games. The ’Canes also climbed in the national rankings, moving from No. 34 to No. 33 in the USA Today poll.
The quarterfinal win over Hampton vaulted New Castle into the No. 1 ranking in the state poll by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg.
The ’Canes will meet La Salle College, a 61-55 winner over Chester, at 8 p.m. Saturday at the GIANT Center in Hershey.
“This is just fabulous,” Blundo said. “Our guys kept fighting and working. This is four years in the making.
“They’ve enjoyed the work. That’s what makes it so special. Now that the outcome is what we hoped it would be, I get to coach these guys for four more days. It’s really something special.”
New Castle built a 45-32 lead with just under seven minutes to play. The ’Canes maintained most of that lead the next four minutes, including owning a 51-40 buffer with 3:08 to play.
“We turned them over a few times,” Blundo said of capturing the double-digit lead. “You have to finish shots. You have to make layups. And you have to guard well.
“We did those things well and that helped us build that lead.”
But in the blink of an eye, the Ghosts (25-6) went on a 10-0 run in just 40 seconds. Abington started the run with a field goal at the 2:58 mark and capped it with another field goal with 2:18 to play, closing to 51-50.
“We knew we had to keep our composure and keep playing through it,” ’Canes senior Drew Allen said.
“Our guys will never quit,” Ghosts coach Charles Grasty said. “They are fighters. We decided we needed to step up our intensity.
“I thought our guys played harder in that fourth quarter and didn’t make as many mistakes.”
Anthony Lee misfired on a shot that could have put Abington up. New Castle’s Stew Allen was credited with a basket on a goaltending call on the other end for a 53-50 lead with 1:31 to go.
Lee followed that up with two-straight field goals, the second coming off a steal with 40 seconds remaining. The second field goal put the Ghosts up 54-53.
Just when Abington seemed to seize the momentum, Malik Hooker turned into a quarterback. Hooker, a senior and Ohio State football recruit who played wide receiver and defensive back, threw a long pass off the inbounds. The pass sailed three-quarters court to a wide-open Stew Allen, who is a senior and Drew’s twin brother.
Stew Allen, who played tight end for New Castle, hauled in the aerial and calmly laid it up in. His bucket gave the ’Canes the lead back at 55-54 with 35 seconds to play. New Castle never trailed the rest of the way.
Stew Allen’s layup swung the cheers from Abington’s fans to a thunderous roar from the New Castle faithful.
“I was already back there to begin with because they were pressing,” Stew Allen said. “Once they got the steal, they kind of ran down the court and forgot about me.
“Malik hurried up and took the ball out and we made this eye connection. He threw it to me and I was able to finish.”
Said Blundo, “We killed their momentum right away. That was huge. That’s a crafty veteran right there. He’s calm, cool and just makes the right play.
“The ball goes in, the place goes nuts for Abington. And then before you know it, the momentum is right back our way. Now we’re just focused on getting stops.”
Hooker delivered what ’Canes fans have grown accustomed to — a statement block on a field goal and it sailed out of bounds with 19.9 seconds left.
“Anthony (Richards), he doesn’t like to get beat,” Hooker said. “When he does, I think he feels a little confident knowing that I will eventually come from the other side and get a key block. He takes pride in keeping his man in front of him.
“I try to act like I am not watching, but I see everything. When he got beat like that, I just started creeping over.”
Said Richards, “I have seen Malik Hooker go up for a block and keep going up and keep going up and I wonder if he’s going to come down. He goes up as high as he possibly can to get that swat.”
Matt Penecale was whistled for a charge when Jake McPhatter stepped in and was run over with 10.6 seconds remaining.
“I thought Jake played fabulous tonight,” Blundo said. “He’s smart.
“He slowed it down, he hit a huge 3 and some really big free throws. He played a really good basketball game.”
Blundo used a 30-second timeout to set up some strategy. ’Canes fans used the opportunity to bounce around and rock the gym chanting ‘we want chocolate’.
The Ghosts elected to foul coming out of the timeout before New Castle could get the ball in. Jordan Neely was called for the hold on Richards.
Richards casually walked to the other end and cashed in both free throws, all net, for a 57-54 lead.
Abington brought the ball up the floor and swung the ball around the perimeter. The Ghosts found Neely in space who teed up a 3-pointer. His shot was off the mark and Drew Allen was fouled with six-tenths of a second to go.
Drew Allen missed the first foul shot, but drained the second for a four-point lead. Putting the game out of reach and granting New Castle’s wish for chocolate.
Abington’s desperation heave at the horn drew nothing but air. ’Canes fans rushed the court with their team. And others threw Hershey Kisses to celebrate the occasion.
Richards paced New Castle with 16 points and eight rebounds. Hooker chipped in 15 markers, 13 rebounds, four assists and four blocks.
Stew Allen tossed in 11 points with seven boards.
“They play hard,” Grasty said of New Castle. “They are talented, skilled, they have very good pieces and they keep coming at you.
“They have an amazing will. They get a bunch of 50/50 balls and rebound the ball well. Defensively, they get after you.”
Lee led all scorers with 20 markers for the Ghosts.
Abington scored the game’s first six points but New Castle rallied to hold an 11-8 lead. The ’Canes held a 21-19 advantage at the break, leading most of the first half.
New Castle started to get a little separation in the third period, taking its largest lead of the game to that point at 39-30 to close the stanza.
In Wednesday’s print edition ...
•Read about Malik Hooker’s “Swat heard ’round the world”
•The Doc and Bowlin’ Joe share a notebook of items from the big win