Beaver Falls ends ’Canes’ streak of section titles
Beaver Falls (69) Vs. New Castle (58)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
BEAVER FALLS — The run of section supremacy is over for the New Castle High boys basketball team.
And Beaver Falls is the sole reason it came to an end.
The Tigers scored nine of the game’s final 11 points to put a capper on a 69-58 WPIAL Section 2-AAA home win over the Red Hurricane in front of a sellout crowd.
The victory sealed the section championship outright for Beaver Falls (13-0 section, 18-2 overall), which is ranked No. 4 in the WPIAL in Class AAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
New Castle (11-2, 16-4) entered the season with four straight section championships, the last three outright. The ’Canes shared the 2010-11 league crown with Blackhawk.
“Certainly, I wanted it for them. But it didn’t work out that way,” ’Canes coach Ralph Blundo said of another section championship for his squad. “We’ll continue along the process and continue to enjoy the process and get ready for Ellwood City (on Friday).
“I know that we’re good enough to do some things. We just want to continue to get better. I think Beaver Falls took the game. I don’t think we gave it to them. We obviously missed some easy shots throughout the course of the game. But it was their ability to make us pay on the offensive end.”
The ’Canes will finish in second place outright in the section standings. Ambridge (8-5, 13-7) currently sits in third place. The WPIAL basketball pairings will be released Tuesday.
New Castle dropped to Class AAA this season, while the Tigers are playing up. They played in Class AA last year.
“This is my 11th (section title) and by far it’s my most satisfying,” Beaver Falls coach Doug Biega said. “We are the only school in the WPIAL that is voluntarily playing up in class.
“To come up in triple-A in what I think top to bottom, we may not be the best at the top, but top to bottom, we have the deepest section in the WPIAL in triple-A. To win it undefeated is really a great group effort.”
The ’Canes were within 60-56 with 1:35 to go coming out of a 30-second timeout called by Blundo. But Beaver Falls got the ball back quickly and Javon Turner was fouled on the other end. He split a pair of foul shots for a 61-56 advantage with 1:24 to go.
The Tigers’ Zach Duffy stepped in a passing lane, recorded a steal and coasted the length of the floor for a layup and a three-point play to send the home crowd into a frenzy. He missed the foul shot and as Beaver Falls corralled the carom, a lane violation against New Castle was called. Duffy made the additional foul shot and his three-point play put the Tigers up 64-56 with 42.6 seconds remaining.
Robert Natale fouled out on Duffy’s three-point play, eliminating another outside shooting threat for New Castle. Teammate Geno Stone fouled out with 1:57 to go.
“Duffy stepped in and made a great play,” Blundo said. “It’s just a huge play. I probably have to give our guys a better opportunity there than what I did. Duffy made the play, credit to him.”
Blundo said the foul trouble wasn’t a major factor in how the game progressed in the late stages.
“It changes our personnel, but we’re prepared to play with different personnel sets,” he said of the foul trouble. “It didn’t have anything to do with what happened down the stretch. Duffy made a really good play; he made a really good play and a really good finish.”
D’Marqus Blanchard cashed in a putback on the other end with 32 seconds to go, cutting the deficit to 64-58. But that was the closest the ’Canes would get the rest of the way.
Beaver Falls came out in a 2-3 zone to open the second half. The Tigers stayed in that defense until the last half of the final frame. Stone buried two 3-pointers earlier in the fourth quarter, prompting a change.
“I could see Stone was starting to heat up a little bit,” Biega said. “You just don’t want to give them a chance. I thought we could guard them. It was just a matter of the foul trouble that made me think to go zone.”
New Castle trailed 32-30 at the half when Beaver Falls showed the new-look defense. It worked for the Tigers as they held the ’Canes to eight third-quarter points, while forcing four turnovers.
“It’s a very difficult zone to get shots up on,” Biega said. “If you saw the shots they made in the second half, they were really good shots. Stone in particular.”
Beaver Falls put that 2-3 zone on display in the first meeting, a 62-60 Tigers win.
“We’ve been pretty good against zones all year,” Blundo said. “We had some looks inside. The thing about them is you can execute everything right, but you still have to make a shot over a 6-6 kid and that’s what makes it difficult. Then we got a little bit cold from the outside. The combination of the two led to a little bit of a drought.
“We did some good things against (the zone) the first time. Credit to Beaver Falls, they played a great game.”
The zone wreaked havoc on all facets of the ’Canes’ game. New Castle forced 25 Beaver Falls turnovers. But the ’Canes got just four in the third quarter because of an inability to score and set up their press.
“When we’re scoring, we can get into our full-court pressure,” Blundo said. “But we used our half-court pressure a lot tonight because I thought they did a pretty good job of throwing over the top early. We wanted to be careful with that.”
The Tigers led throughout the contest and trailed just once at 30-29. But Donovan Jeter drained a 3-pointer with 35 seconds left in the half to give the hosts the lead back at 32-30.
New Castle trailed by seven points four different times in the first quarter, including 20-13 at the end of the period. Beaver Falls built its largest first-half lead at 29-19 before the ’Canes quickly regrouped with an 11-0 run.
“It was obviously big because it could get going the other way real quick here at Beaver Falls,” Blundo said of his team’s 11-0 run. “My guys understand it’s 32 minutes. We’re trying to win more possessions than the other team over the course of 32 minutes.
“We gave ourselves a chance. Then they made a big 3 right before the half.”
Said Biega of New Castle’s flurry, “A lot of that had to do with Josh Creach picking up his second foul. He’s a big part of what we do. New Castle is not going to quit. They’re not built that way.”
Marquel Hooker paced the ’Canes with 13 points and Micah Fulena was next with 11. Hooker added five rebounds. Pat Minenok pulled down a team-high seven rebounds for the guests to go with his eight markers, while Blanchard chipped in with eight points and six rebounds.
Jeter netted a game-high 22 points for Beaver Falls.
New Castle returns to action at 7:30 p.m. Friday when it hosts section foe Ellwood City Lincoln (2-11, 5-15). It’s the league finale for both schools.