’Canes edge Ambridge in thriller
New Castle (53) Vs. Ambridge (51)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
Geno Stone wasn’t even supposed to get the ball.
But the New Castle High boys basketball team sure is glad he did.
Stone kept maneuvering himself on a dramatic out-of-bounds play with 10.5 seconds left and delivered a game-tying basket which he turned into a three-point play.
It was enough to rally New Castle to a 53-51 WPIAL Section 2-AAA win over Ambridge at the Ne-Ca- Hi Field House. It marked the 46th consecutive section win for the ’Canes (5-0 section, 10-1 overall).
Robert Natale had the ball underneath the basket and was looking for someone to throw it to with the Bridgers nursing a 51-49 advantage. Natale finally got the ball in after about three or four seconds and he found Stone inside.
“It actually didn’t work out, what we diagrammed,” ’Canes coach Ralph Blundo said. “We ran an out-of-bounds play that we have in our arsenal and they guarded it pretty well.
“Geno just made a basketball play, he cut backdoor and Robert found him.”
Stone, a sophomore guard, cashed in the basket with 8.2 seconds left and he was fouled on the play. He drained the free throw to complete the three-point play and give New Castle a 52-51 lead.
“It wasn’t the first option. It’s not an option in the play, it’s just a basketball play that (Stone) made,” Blundo said. “I was leaning toward a timeout. I was so close to burning one at that point.
“I thought it was close to four (seconds). Fortunately I didn’t call it and we made a great play. One of the things that Geno does really well is he finishes and he’s really strong. It was really a great finish by him and then to follow it up by making the foul shot shows a lot of character for a sophomore.”
Blundo still had two timeouts left if Natale couldn’t get the ball in. The out-of-bounds play came after a New Castle timeout.
The basket sent the home crowd into a frenzy. But the home faithful soon got quiet and Stone calmly drained the freebie for the one-point lead.
“I was supposed to flash hard to the middle,” Stone said of the play. “But I backed out and that’s all I did was turn around and I flashed to the hoop and got an and-one.
“I got scared for a second there because I thought we were going to call timeout. I thought it was going to be a five-second call there and be a turnover and we probably would have lost the game.”
“We sort of knew where they probably wanted to go,” said third-year Ambridge coach Mark Jula. “We switched everything. We wanted to stop (Marcus Hooker) from getting the ball coming down the middle.
“I don’t even know how they got it in, then they found that kid. I don’t know how they found him, but they found him. We sort of knew where they wanted to go and we stopped that. Where it went from there, I can’t even remember.”
The Bridgers (3-2, 7-4), trailing 52-51, were out of timeouts. They called their last one — a full timeout — with 1:44 to play and trailing 46-45.
“They get on them runs and you have to do something,” Jula said of burning all of his timeouts. “I was hoping I could save them, but the nature of that game, I couldn’t do it.”
Ambridge inbounded the ball immediately after Stone’s made foul shot. A long pass was picked off by New Castle and Micah Fulena was fouled with 3.3 seconds left.
“I had two shooters in the corners, then we ran a play called clock. Then when they pressured us, we couldn’t get to it,” Jula said. “Darius (Lawrence) would have been coming off a screen by Daylon (Carter). In four seconds, you don’t have time to do all that.”
Fulena made the front-end of the one-and-one for a 53-51 advantage. But he missed the second shot and the Bridgers snared the rebound, but their desperation heave went high off the backboard and the ’Canes survived, again prompting a thunderous roar from the home crowd.
“We expected exactly what we got. It was a hard-fought game,” Blundo said. “I think being in games like this, we were in so many 20-point wins in the past couple of years. That’s not the norm. This is the norm. This is what most people go through every single night and we’re going to go through it a whole heck of a lot of nights here.
“I thought our kids fought hard. I’m really happy to come out with a win. We just made one more play than they did.”
The ’Canes couldn’t get going early, turning the ball over seven times in the first quarter while holding on to an 11-10 lead after one period. Ambridge outscored New Castle 15-5 in the second stanza to forge a 25-16 buffer at the break.
“Neither team was knocking down a lot of shots,” Blundo said. “I thought we were both guarding reasonably well. But we broke down before they broke down and that’s kind of what happened in the second quarter.
“They played a matchup zone. We knew they were going to play it. We didn’t deliver the ball the way we wanted to. We had guys in certain places, and that’s to their credit.”
New Castle finally got rolling in the third period. The ’Canes trailed 29-21 with 6:42 to go in the quarter before going on a 12-2 run to take a 33-31 advantage with 1:56 to go in the third on a three-point play by Hooker.
It was the ’Canes’ first lead since a 16-14 advantage with 4:40 to go in the first half.
“A full-court press and them turning the ball over were keys,” Stone said.
Natale netted a team-high 16 points with three rebounds, three assists and three steals for New Castle. Marquel Hooker and his younger brother Marcus Hooker each tallied 14 points for the winners. Marquel contributed a team-high five steals with six rebounds, while Marcus added a team-high eight boards with three steals.
Carter collected a game-high 28 points for Ambridge, surpassing the 1,000-point plateau along the way.
“Carter was who I thought he was,” Blundo said. “He really finishes well around the hoop. He has a really great mid-range game. He’s an all-around basketball player and he plays the game the right way.”
The ’Canes return to action at 7:30 p.m. Friday when they entertain Beaver Falls (5-0, 9-2) at the Field House. It’s a battle for first place as each team enters with two games remaining before the second half of league play starts.
“They’re a really big team,” Blundo said of Beaver Falls. “They do a lot well. They have a great tradition. I have loads of respect for Doug Biega and what he’s done down there.
“We enjoy the preparation process. That’s what we’re looking forward to over the next couple of days. I expect it to be a good basketball game.”