New Castle rolls past South Park
New Castle (80) Vs. South Park (64)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
MOON TOWNSHIP — The playoff win streak is alive for the New Castle High boys basketball team.
Now comes Hampton.
Micah Fulena tossed in a career-high 25 points to lead sixth-seeded New Castle to an 80-64 win over 11th-seeded South Park in an opening-round matchup at Moon High last night.
The victory extends the ’Canes’ WPIAL playoff winning streak to 13 straight and forces a rematch with the Talbots on Friday in the second round at a time and site to be announced.
“South Park was a tough matchup for us because they’re so big,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “Our guys were down there fighting hard. Sometimes, it didn’t matter.
“We made some shots early in the game to get us going. We had to play well to win this game. If we don’t play well, we probably don’t win this game tonight.”
Third-seeded Hampton (19-4) rolled to a 77-48 first-round win over Southmoreland last night. The Talbots tallied an 87-64 decision over the ’Canes (19-4) on Dec. 9 at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House, snapping their run of 33-straight wins, 70 consecutive victories in the regular season, 38 in a row at home and 49 straight over WPIAL opponents.
Hampton is ranked No. 3 in the WPIAL in Class AAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
“It’s a great challenge for us,” Blundo said. “It’s a great rivalry. It’s a respectful rivalry. That’s one of the things I love the most about it.
“We’re looking forward to it and I’m sure they are, too.”
Fulena posted his previous career best in scoring of 15 points in a 63-42 home win over Blackhawk earlier in the year. Last night, Fulena netted 13 points in the first half, six in the second quarter on a pair of 3-pointers.
“Micah was fabulous tonight,” Blundo said. “It couldn’t happen to a better kid who works so hard.
“He just played tremendous, he really did. He shot it well. He did it off the dribble. He finished. He got it to the right place. He played a near perfect game and I’m so happy for him.”
Said Fulena, “I played pretty well. I think it was an overall team win. They were pressuring up on us. I was able to get by my guy and make some plays. They went to some junk defenses where they were keying in on Robert (Natale) and Marquel (Hooker), which opened up a lot for me and Marcus (Hooker) and (D’Marqus Blanchard). I just got some open shots. I felt good and I hit my first one. They just kept leaving me open and I was able to knock them down, which was big.”
The game was tight throughout the first half and New Castle trailed just twice at 2-0 and 30-29. Each time, the ’Canes raced down the court to force a tie.
Leading 35-32, New Castle closed the half on a 6-0 run to build a 41-32 buffer at the break.
“I think it was big and I think it was a bit deflating for them because they had played pretty well. But we made a couple of plays late to get us a nine-point lead.” Blundo said of the late surge to close the first half. “I thought that was really important.
“It gave us momentum going into halftime. Then we were able to stretch it out in the second half.”
The ’Canes had the ball first to open the second half and they took their first double-digit lead when Marcus Hooker drove inside for a basket and a 43-32 advantage just 15 seconds into the third quarter.
“That was definitely huge for the momentum,” Fulena said of Marcus Hooker’s bucket. “We came out and we wanted to keep that momentum going from the first half; we wanted to extend our lead and we did.”
Eagles rattled off the next six points to get within 43-38 with 5:53 to go in the third period. But that was as close as South Park would get the rest of the way. The Eagles battled right to the final whistle, fouling on virtually every trip down the floor in the last half of the fourth quarter in an attempt to extend the game.
The ’Canes were 17 of 23 from the foul line, including 12 of 17 in the final frame.
New Castle quickly pushed the lead to 62-44 going to the fourth quarter. South Park got as close as 71-60 with 1:55 remaining before the ’Canes closed out the victory.
Marquel Hooker chipped in with 17 points for the ’Canes, while his younger brother Marcus Hooker added 13. Natale was next with 10.
Dan Wanker and Justin Gorny garnered 19 points apiece to lead South Park. Wanker, a 6-foot-6 senior forward, was a force inside for The Eagles.
“He’s enormous. He’s 6-6 and our average height in our starting lineup is 5-10, maybe 5-11,” Blundo said. “It’s difficult for us. Our kids kept fighting. I think we wore them out a little bit with the constant pressure."