New Castle advances to PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal
New Castle (50) Vs. Indiana (43)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
WEXFORD — Ralph Blundo’s players waited patiently for him to take his customary spot in the middle of their postgame locker room huddle.
“Somebody get the charter bus ready,” proclaimed the New Castle High boys basketball coach.
And as Blundo knew it would, the locker room went wild.
The Red Hurricane will be making another trip east, on the strength of last night’s 50-43 PIAA Class AAA second-round playoff win over Indiana at jam-packed North Allegheny High. The victory vaults the ’Canes (22-5) into the state quarterfinals against Archbishop Carroll on Friday at a time and site to be determined. The Patriots (21-6) moved on with an 83-54 victory over Steelton-Highspire.
It’s the third straight trip to the state quarterfinals for New Castle.
Last year, the team traveled to Chambersburg for the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals before heading to Hershey for the state championship game.
Archbishop Carroll is located in Radnor, just outside of Philadelphia. The game is expected to be played at a neutral site somewhere in the middle for both schools.
“I’m just proud that the guys get to keep playing,” Blundo said. “When you see kids work hard and do things right and have success, it’s so encouraging as a coach.
“It’s such affirmation for hard work. I’m glad that they can see it, that if you work hard there’s really a good chance that good things will happen for you.”
New Castle trailed 33-27 with 2:36 left in the third quarter when Riley Stapleton drained a field goal inside. The Little Indians, who won the WPIAL championship, held a 35-30 lead going to the fourth quarter.
The ’Canes scored just 16 total points in the second and third quarters after holding a 14-10 lead after one period.
“We had to keep our composure and keep playing,” New Castle’s Marquel Hooker said. “We knew shots were going to fall and we were going to come back.”
Blundo’s words were simple to his team during the timeout after the third quarter ended.
“I told them to just keep doing what you’re doing,” he said. “We felt the gameplan and the things we were doing throughout the course of the game were effective; the ball just wasn’t going in.”
The ’Canes opened the fourth quarter determined and were able to deliver the knockout blow. New Castle went on an 18-2 run to rally and eliminate Indiana.
Hooker got New Castle going, along with its fans, in the final frame when he buried a 3-pointer just 20 seconds into the stanza. His younger brother Marcus drained a 3-pointer to trim the deficit to 37-36 with 6:10 to play.
Then Marquel Hooker struck again. This time, his 3-pointer put New Castle up for good at 39-37 with 5:17 remaining and the fans went wild.
It also prompted Little Indians coach Greg Lezanic to burn a timeout to try and stunt the run.
“I just had to keep digging,” Marquel Hooker said. “I knew shots were going to fall. I just had to keep attacking.”
And attack Marquel Hooker did in the fourth quarter. He scored eight of his 12 points in the pivotal period, while scrapping for every loose ball and coming up with many critical rebounds on both ends of the floor.
Marquel Hooker finished 5 of 10 from the floor with a team-high 11 rebounds and five assists.
“I thought he played hard all night,” Blundo said of Marquel Hooker. “He really rebounded the ball well and got his hands on a bunch of balls; he got a ton of loose balls.
“He made two huge 3s in the second half that really got it going the other way for us. Marquel doesn’t take a backseat to anybody. He will compete with anyone. He’s a fiery competitor.”
Lezanic’s timeout did little good as New Castle kept the heat on on both ends of the floor. Geno Stone scored five points during the ’Canes’ 9-0 run out of the timeout to push the margin to 48-37 with 1:25 remaining.
Marcus Hooker capped the run with a field goal for an 11-point lead, sending the New Castle faithful into a frenzy and causing the Little Indians’ fans to exit in droves.
“They come out in the fourth quarter and make a couple of threes and we threw the ball away here and there,” Lezanic said. “Then that snowball started going down the hill and we couldn’t stop it.”
The ’Canes led 14-10 after one quarter, but both teams went cold in the second stanza. New Castle held on for a 17-16 advantage at the break.
Robert Natale’s 3-pointer opened the scoring in the second quarter with 6:52 to go. It proved to be the final points of the half for the ’Canes.
“I think both teams were doing good things defensively,” Blundo said. “We weren’t making shots and they weren’t making shots.
“We executed well. We were in the right places. The ball just didn’t go in. Sometimes it does that.”
The Little Indians were just 6 of 13 from the foul line, including missing a dunk and at least three layups during the contest. Four of Indiana’s missed freebies came in the first half.
“Foul shots and layups. That’s all. Foul shots and layups came back to bite us,” said a frustrated Lezanic. “If we could make some foul shots and layups, it’s a different game because we have a bigger (third-quarter) lead than what we did.”
Marcus Hooker paced New Castle with 16 points, seven coming in the third quarter. He was 7 of 11 from the floor to go along with six boards and three steals.
“We got him some easy looks down low and we got him going a little bit,” Blundo said of Marcus Hooker.
Blake Shields netted a game-best 17 points for Indiana.