Hampton ends ’Canes’ incredible streak
Hampton (87) Vs. New Castle (67)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
A series of streaks came to an end last night for the New Castle High boys basketball team.
And a familiar foe was the culprit — Hampton.
Joey Lafko poured in a game-high 37 points to lift the visiting Talbots to an 87-67 nonsection win over the Red Hurricane at a packed Ne-Ca-Hi Field House.
The loss snapped a string of 33 straight wins overall, 70 consecutive victories in the regular season, 38 in a row at home and 49 straight over WPIAL opponents.
“It was a great run and at some point it’s going to come to an end,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “We weren’t sure when it would happen, but we knew it would happen at some point.
“(Last night) we played against a team that played really, really well in every phase. They outplayed us and my hat’s off to Hampton.”
Hampton (3-0) also snapped the ’Canes’ nine-game winning streak in head-to-head action. New Castle (2-1) won all four meetings last season, including triumphs in the last three WPIAL championships. The Talbots’ last win over the ’Canes was a 53-46 decision Dec. 14, 2010 on Hampton’s home floor.
The teams were section rivals the past couple of seasons and both dropped down to Class AAA this season but are in separate sections.
“I know a couple of guys that have played New Castle the last few years predominantly are seniors and been around some of the tough losses that we’ve had,” said Hampton coach Joe Lafko of some of his upperclassmen. “To get this win tonight is big for them. I’m so proud of them and I’m so proud of the effort they gave.
“I think in their minds it was important to beat New Castle. This is early in the season still. New Castle is a very good basketball team. They do a lot of good things defensively and offensively. Our team is playing well right now and I’m proud of them.”
Lafko is a Westminster College standout who doubles as Joey’s dad.
The last time the ’Canes surrendered more than 80 points in a contest was an 85-83 home loss to Sharon on Jan. 15, 2011.
New Castle held just one lead at 4-3 57 seconds into the game on a Marquel Hooker bucket. But Hampton regrouped and led the rest of the way.
The Talbots raced to a 25-16 lead after one quarter behind 10 points from Lafko.
“Joey played a great game tonight,” coach Joe Lafko said. “He’s capable of doing that. This was the third different leading scorer we’ve had this year; that’s a great thing.
“Our guys shoot the basketball well and they distribute the basketball well, too.”
Hampton took command by outscoring New Castle 12-2 to open the second quarter and never looked back. The Talbots built their largest lead of the half at 52-28 with 1:51 remaining and settled for a 54-36 advantage at the break.
“When you’re as inexperienced as these guys are, everything is new,” Blundo said. “When you face a 12-2 run, that’s brand new. When you run out on to the court in front of 2,000 people, that’s brand new. When you miss four or five shots in a row, that’s new.
“How you handle those things are things that we pride ourselves at being good at, but we’re not good at right now. We have to get better. The inexperience does come into play when we’re dealing with adverse situations.”
Blundo noted his team wasn’t succeeding in the key areas in the first 16 minutes.
“The biggest thing on the board was we wanted to be really good on the ball and we wanted to be really good in transition defense and we were really, really bad at both,” Blundo said regarding the first half of play.
The closest the ’Canes got in the second half was 67-52 on a Marcus Hooker field goal with 1:01 to play in the third quarter. The Talbots added the next basket to carry a 68-52 advantage into the final frame.
“As bad as losing hurts, and it does, I think that all positive things and negative things that occur are a great opportunity to teach kids,” Blundo said. “A loss for one team may be their first loss of the year. A loss for us is the end of a long win streak that was a big part of a lot of success that we had.
“I didn’t feel that pressure, but I can’t speak for the kids. The great part about being a player for New Castle is you have a great fan base and a great community that will support you.”
Lafko scored 20 of his points in the opening half.
“That’s tough to swallow that someone came into our gym and scored 37 points. But we have to own that and look at why it happened,” Blundo said. “I know we didn’t guard the ball very well.
“Joey was making plays on us. When he had opportunities to finish, he finished. He certainly played a great game.”
Marquel Hooker paced New Castle with 23 points and his younger brother Marcus chipped in with 17. Robert Natale added 10 tallies. Marquel had six rebounds, five assists and five steals, while Marcus added nine boards.
New Castle returns to the court at 7:30 p.m. Friday when it travels to Beaver to open WPIAL Section 2-AAA play. The ’Canes still maintain a 41-game section winning streak. New Castle’s last league loss was a 58-54 setback at Blackhawk on Feb. 8, 2011.
“We’re looking forward to section play,” Blundo said. “We’ll spend the next couple of days preparing as hard as we can for Beaver and making sure that we’re better Friday night than we were (last night).”