New Castle drops heartbreaker to Beaver Falls
Beaver Falls (52) Vs. New Castle (49)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News

BEAVER FALLS — Heartbreak.

From the New Castle High boys basketball team’s locker room, to the Red Hurricane’s massive fan base, this loss was an extremely tough one to accept.

Beaver Falls’ Keyan Gibson drained a 3-pointer from the corner with
10.4 seconds left and Zach Duffy stripped Geno Stone to seal a 52-49 WPIAL Class AAA semifinal-round win over New Castle at Geneva College’s Metheny Fieldhouse. The fieldhouse was packed, with nearly 3,000 fans in attendance, squeezing in in every row and lining the track above the court.

The loss snaps a 14-game WPIAL playoff win streak for the ’Canes (20-5) and ends their bid for a fourth-straight district championship. Three of their five losses this year were against Beaver Falls (22-2).

“I just feel for my kids. That’s the only thing I feel,” said fifth-year New Castle coach Ralph Blundo. “Sometimes you give your very best and it’s not enough.”

The sixth-seeded ’Canes were appearing in the semifinals for the fifth consecutive season. Members of the New Castle team were crushed in the locker room after the game. There weren’t many dry eyes in the room and their heads were down in a scene so unfamiliar to the program in recent years.

But those heads picked up and locked on Blundo when he addressed the team immediately after the game.

“This one is going to hurt, there’s no question about it. But we’ll learn from it,” he told the team.

New Castle still qualified for the PIAA playoffs with its win over Hampton last Friday. The ’Canes will be the third-place representative out of the WPIAL with a Tigers win in the WPIAL championship, or the No. 4 seed if Indiana knocks off Beaver Falls.

The Class AAA state playoffs will start March 6.

Beaver Falls advances to the WPIAL championship game and will meet Indiana at 9 p.m. Friday at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center. The Little Indians (23-2) moved on with a 54-45 verdict over Ambridge.

“I have a lot of respect for Beaver Falls and I’m certainly rooting for them to pick up another WPIAL championship,” Blundo said. “Their kids played hard and well and deserved to win.”

Said Beaver Falls coach Doug Biega, “Ralph and his team should be very proud. Everyone in the New Castle community should be very proud of the way Ralph and those kids represent them. They’re a class act.”

The Tigers went up 46-42 with 2:39 to go on a basket inside by Donovan Jeter. But Stone helped New Castle quickly regroup, making two foul shots with 2:25 to go and two more with 1:21 left, knotting the count at 46.

Jeter netted a game-best 21 points.

Micah Fulena missed a 3-pointer with 44 seconds to go and the score still deadlocked at 46. The ball rolled around the rim before rimming out.

Javon Turner squandered a Tigers opportunity when he was whistled for a travel with 31.6 seconds to go. The ’Canes burned their fourth timeout after Turner’s travel and New Castle’s Marcus Hooker sailed down the lane on the other end and banked in a field goal in the paint to put New Castle up 48-46 with 25 ticks to go.

“He made a great play at that point,” Blundo said. “They put a lot of pressure on us up top and made us have to play fast. We really weren’t able to get into anything and Marcus just went out and made a play. That’s what good basketball players do.”

The Tigers brought the ball down the floor and worked it around, finding Gibson alone in the corner. Gibson caught, spotted up and buried a 3-pointer with 10.4 seconds remaining to put Beaver Falls up 49-48.

“It’s a great shot by him,” Blundo said. “It was contested. It was deep. And he buried it. Give him credit.”

Biega had two timeouts left after Hooker’s shot, but elected to let his team play it out.

“We could have called a timeout there. But I kind of didn’t want them to have a chance to set up a press,” Biega said. “I just didn’t want our guards to get caught under pressure and burn clock that wasn’t necessary to burn.

“I saw the floor was spread, and honestly, I saw Donovan (Jeter) in the middle. I thought Keyan had stretched the defense enough that Donovan was going to get a look. But they closed in on Donovan and Keyan got some room. He didn’t need much room, but he got about two feet of
space. I think his shot is so ugly that they didn’t know how to defend it.”

The ’Canes called their final timeout to set up a play. Stone was dribbling through traffic and Duffy reached in and knocked the ball free. Duffy tracked the ball down and raced toward the other end as time was running out on New Castle.

Duffy laid the ball up off the glass for a basket and was fouled on the play. He made the free throw for a 52-48 advantage with eight-tenths of a second left, but the Tigers were called for a technical foul because of excessive celebration from the bench.

“Duffy made a game-saving play for us,” Biega said.

Said Blundo, “They just hit the 3 and we were coming off a press-breaker. Geno got a head of steam and they kind of gapped him, pretty aggressive but they didn’t call it. We lost the ball and they went down and got an and-one.”

Fulena made the first technical foul shot and missed the second freebie. New Castle inbounded the ball with eight-tenths of a second left and Stone’s desperation shot at the buzzer fell short, sending the Beaver Falls followers into a frenzy.

“We were playing New Castle. I definitely expected another close game like this,” Biega said.

The Tigers’ Josh Creach fouled out with 2:25 to go and Marquel Hooker was sent to the bench with five fouls with 1:29 to go.

“You take his length out of there, then when you get to the hole, it becomes a little easier to finish,” Blundo said of Creach’s absence.

“It’s a lot more difficult without Marquel in the game, though.”

Said Biega, “I didn’t want to go to overtime without Creach. I was very OK with the 3 (by Gibson).”

New Castle led most of the first half. The ’Canes were up 12-11 after one and 25-23 at the break. Beaver Falls held a 21-15 advantage with 4:34 to go before halftime. But the ’Canes went on a 10-2 run to claim the lead at the break.

“They were in foul trouble and I actually thought we needed to be a little bit better there,” Blundo said. “They had two guys in foul trouble and we probably didn’t do enough.”

The game was deadlocked at 36 after three periods. There were four ties in the final frame and six lead changes.

Marquel Hooker paced New Castle with 16 points, while adding seven rebounds. His younger brother Marcus chipped in 12 markers and a team-best 10 boards. Stone supplied 10 points and four rebounds.

The ’Canes were just 14 of 38 from the field, compared to 21 of 41 for the Tigers.

New Castle will attempt to put this crushing defeat in the past and get ready for the state playoffs.

“We’ll teach our kids how to respond. It hurts. It definitely hurts,” Blundo said. “It’s our job to teach kids how to respond to difficult situations in tough times.

“We haven’t had a lot of this. We’ve had a lot of great times here. We’re going to teach them how to respond and we’ll be ready for the state playoffs. Fortunately the sun will come up tomorrow and they’ll get a chance to play again. They’re good young men. They’re basketball players. But they’re good, young men, and to me, that’s more important than anything.”

Game Scoreboard
Beaver Falls 11 12 13 16 0 52
New Castle 12 13 11 13 0 49
Box Scores
Marquel Hooker 4 7-8 16
Micah Fulena 2 1-2 5
Robert Natale 1 2-2 5
Pat Minenok 0 1-4 1
D’Marqus Blanchard 0 0-0 0
Marcus Hooker 4 2-4 12
Geno Stone 3 4-4 10
Totals: 14 17-24 49

Javon Turner 4 2-2 11
Torian Leak 1 0-2 2
Zach Duffy 1 3-4 5
Josh Creach 4 0-1 8
Donovan Jeter 9 3-4 21
Malik Shepherd 0 0-0 0
Keyan Gibson 2 0-1 5
Totals: 21 8-14 52

NEW CASTLE 12 13 11 13 — 49
BEAVER FALLS 11 12 13 16 — 52

3-point goals — New Castle 4 (Marq. Hooker 1, Marc. Hooker 2, Natale 1), Beaver Falls 2 (Turner 1, Gibson 1).
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