Blanchard lifts 'Canes past Hopewell
New Castle (79) Vs. Hopewell (54)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
ALIQUIPPA — The New Castle High boys basketball team needed an inside presence in the second half last night.
D’Marqus Blanchard fit the bill perfectly.
Blanchard scored 10 of his 12 points in the third quarter as the Red Hurricane took command and pulled away for a 79-54 WPIAL Section 2-AAA win at Hopewell.
The 12 points are one point away from equaling a career high for Blanchard, a 6-foot-1 senior center. He tossed in 13 points at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House earlier in the year in a 75-56 decision over the Vikings.
“D’Marqus is capable of that,” ’Canes coach Ralph Blundo said. “It’s all about his approach and I thought his approach tonight was really, really good.
“He was focused on what he was doing. He played with passion down there. He had some good finishes. Made a couple of free throws. I was, all in all, very proud of his effort.”
New Castle (10-1 section, 15-3 overall) was outrebounded by four in the first half (14-10) before regrouping to win the category, 31-22.
“I thought our energy was better in the second half,” Blundo said. “I thought it was good in the first half, we just didn’t shoot quite as well.
“In the second half, the ball started going in. We shot it well from 3. We were really good from the free-throw line. We rebounded way better in the second half. (The second-half rebounding) is a huge difference. We were plus 13 in the second half on rebounds alone and then you add to it four more possessions on turnovers and that was pretty good for us.”
The ’Canes led 38-32 at the half. Blanchard didn’t wait too far into the third quarter before he started taking over. He split a pair of foul shots with 6:40 left in the period to put New Castle up 42-34. The ’Canes then got a quick steal and found Blanchard underneath for a layup for a 44-34 advantage.
Blanchard scored all seven of New Castle’s points during a 7-0 run to build a 49-34 advantage.
“I was able to provide points and go in there and get rebounds,” Blanchard said of his third-quarter production. “I was able to play with incredible effort just like coach taught me to.
“(Blundo) just really said to keep playing with the same effort and we’ll come out victorious.”
Blanchard finished with four rebounds and was 5 of 8 from the field.
The ’Canes outscored Hopewell (2-9, 5-13) 28-11 in the third quarter for a 66-43 lead going to the final frame.
The teams traded runs throughout the first half. New Castle built a 17-9 first-quarter lead and the Vikings fought back to 19-17 before settling for a 24-17 deficit after one period.
The ’Canes quickly pushed the lead to 31-21 with 5:44 to go in the second quarter, but Hopewell bounced back for a 32-31 advantage with 2:25 to go before the half.
New Castle, though, closed the first half on a 7-0 run for a 38-32 buffer at the break.
Robert Natale, who netted a team-high 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting, netted 12 of his markers in the first quarter. He added five assists and four rebounds as well.
“He made a couple of 3s and that helped,” Blundo said of Natale. “He made a nice little floater in the lane, too. Robert played a real solid game for us tonight."
Geno Stone supplied 14 points off the bench for the winners on 5-of-7 shooting. Marquel Hooker followed with 12 points, six rebounds and five steals, while his younger brother Marcus Hooker chipped in with 11 markers and a team-high eight boards. Marcus Hooker shared team-high honors in assists with Micah Fulena, each handing out six apiece.
Nate Bell poured in a game-high 29 points for Hopewell. He tossed in 18 of his markers in the first half, nine in each of the first two quarters.
The ’Canes return to action at 7:30 p.m. Friday when they travel to section foe Ambridge (8-3, 13-5). The Bridgers, who are two games back of second-place New Castle, clinched a playoff berth last night with their 51-48 win over Beaver.
The ’Canes won the first matchup with Ambridge at the Field House, 51-48. Blundo instructed his players after the game about the importance of being ready for that contest and not looking ahead to Tuesday’s road game at section-leading Beaver Falls (11-0, 16-2). Next Tuesday’s game would be for a share of first place in the league if New Castle takes care of the Bridgers on Friday.
“We know how good Ambridge is. I think Ambridge is as good as anyone in this league,” Blundo said. “I’m pleased we put ourselves in position to be in this position Friday night against Ambridge. Certainly, it’s all about them right now and not Beaver Falls.
“I think we’ve been pretty good in close games this year. I just think our guys believe in themselves. They believe in the work they’ve put in.”
Blanchard said the players are aware of the situation heading into Friday’s tilt.
“Today was a big game for us,” he said. “We had to win today because that’s going to follow into Friday’s game now.”