'Canes shine at the line in victory
New Castle (54) Vs. Seton-La Salle (44)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
Foul shooting proved to be a key for the New Castle High boys basketball team last night.
The Red Hurricane drained 20 of 26 attempts from the charity stripe en route to a 54-44 win over Seton-La Salle in the championship of the Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George Red Hurricane Christmas Classic at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House.
Valley edged Hickory, 41-40, in the consolation contest.
It’s the sixth consecutive victory for New Castle (8-1), the three-time defending WPIAL champions and defending PIAA champs.
The Rebels (8-1) came into the game ranked No. 3 in the WPIAL in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and No. 3 in the PIAA by the Harrisburg Patriot-News. Seton-La Salle is the defending WPIAL Class AA champions and state runner-up.
The ’Canes were 15 of 20 in the fourth quarter at the line to ice the win.
“We were really good down the stretch,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said of his team’s free-throw shooting. “Micah (Fulena) made a bunch. Pat (Minenok) made a bunch. Certainly, free-throw shooting was important.
“There was a lot of dead-ball scoring in this game. It was really a good win for us; we’ll take it.”
The ’Canes held a 33-29 lead going to the fourth quarter. The Rebels couldn’t get any closer the rest of the way, though.
New Castle led 39-35 with 5:28 to play and went on an 11-4 run to build a 50-39 advantage with just over a minute to play to ice the win. The ’Canes opened the tourney with a 66-31 win over Valley.
“I think any time we’re at home in a tournament like this, it’s good to come out with a win,” said New Castle senior Robert Natale. “I think we played good enough to win two nights in a row and we did that.”
The ’Canes trailed for just the first 3:22 of the game before taking the lead for good at 5-4 on a 3-pointer by Natale.
The Rebels tried to confuse New Castle with a 1-3-1 and a 2-3 zone, but the hosts were able to find ways to score. The ’Canes claimed a 12-8 lead after one quarter and 26-15 at the break.
“I think they did some different things against us,” Blundo said. “We attacked their 1-3-1 pretty good early. Then they switched to a 2-3 zone and we attacked and did some good things there.”
Natale netted 12 points on 4-of-11 shooting. He was 4 of 10 from behind the arc, while claiming the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.
“I’m proud of Robert,” Blundo said. “He comes to work and he works hard every day. At some point, you have to make 3s and you have to make open shots.
“They were packing it in pretty good and he made some shots. Natale got out of the gate and made some big shots (last night). Robert’s a very good shooter. He made some big ones (last night).”
Said Natale, “I think that the way they play, the 1-3-1 and things, we do a lot of skip passes and that gets a lot of open 3s. I started off slow, but I started making them as the game went on. It’s all a credit to my teammates. They did a good job of finding me.”
New Castle was content in spreading the floor in the early stages of the third quarter with a double-digit lead and the Rebels determined to play zone. But Seton-La Salle chipped away and cut the deficit to 33-29 after three periods.
Two technical fouls were called in the third quarter at different junctures, the first on the ’Canes’ Marcus Hooker and the second assessed to Seton-La Salle’s Paris Ford. Ford fouled out in the fourth frame and teammate Dalaun Samuels also departed because of fouls later in the stanza.
Nobody from the ’Canes fouled out, but Fulena, Natale and Minenok all ended the contest on the court with four fouls.
“I think both teams were in serious foul trouble, so it affected both teams,” Blundo said. “Scoring was not easy (last night). Both teams guarded pretty well. We made enough to win the game. Fifty-four points, 20 from the free-throw line, that says a lot right there.”
Geno Stone paced the ’Canes with 13 points, while tying for game-high honors in rebounds (6) with Minenok.
Cletus Helton recorded a game-high 14 points for Seton-La Salle.
Stone, Fulena and Marquel Hooker all earned all-tournament honors for the ’Canes. The Rebels’ Ryan Norkus was named the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player.
New Castle returns to the court at 5 p.m. Saturday when it hosts Class A Monessen. The Greyhounds (5-4) are ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL in Class A by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The game was moved up from 7:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. because of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 8:15 p.m. AFC Wild Card game against Baltimore at Heinz Field.