New Castle boys top Beaver Falls for section title
New Castle (60) Vs. Beaver Falls (49)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
It's official — the New Castle High boys basketball team has locked up
another section championship.
And this one was sweet for the Red Hurricane.
New Castle got 18 points apiece from Marcus Hooker and Geno Stone en route to a 60-49 WPIAL Section 2-AAA victory over Beaver Falls in front of an overflow crowd Tuesday night at the Ne-Ca Hi Field House.
Last year, the Tigers handed the 'Canes three of their six losses, including a heartbreaking setback in the WPIAL Class AAA semifinals.
"It's their time now. they're seniors and I think winning a section title was important to them," said sixth-year New Castle coach Ralph Blundo of his senior class. "It was important to me for them (winning the crown).
"They've earned it. They've put the time in. They're here in the summer when it's 90 degrees and they could be other places. They're here, working. It's better to win the title outright than it is to share it. We wanted to win it outright."
New Castle athletic director Sam Flora estimated that an estimated 2,500 fans squeezed into the field house to see a battle of Class AAA heavyweights. The 'Canes (13-0 section, 20-0 overall) came in ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class AAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and No. 4 in the state by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg. Beaver Falls (11-2, 18-3) is ranked No. 3 in the WPIAL by the Post-Gazette and No. 5 in the state.
Fans were lined up the aisles throughout the gym, in the balcony and along the baselines, arriving as early as a half-hour before the junior varsity game. And many of them went home happy as New Castle cut down the nets to celebrate another league crown, the fifth in Blundo's tenure.
"It's tremendous," Blundo said of the atmosphere. "Our kids get something that other kids don't get. I don't want them to take that for granted.
"They got to play in front of 3,000 people tonight for the section championship. When I say not everyone gets that, most people don't get that. Not just us, but Beaver Falls too."
The 'Canes won the first meeting, 75-53, on the Tigers' home floor, finally getting a measure of revenge for falling short three times last season against Beaver Falls.
"Senior guards," Tigers coach Doug Biega said of the reason for the reversal of fortune. "Last year, we had senior guards and we won three games. This year, they have senior guards and they've won two games. You can have great bigs, which we do. But someone has to get them the ball and ours aren't bad. They're young. They're getting there. And they're only going to get better going through games like this.
"I'm sure New Castle was very disappointed when we beat them three times last year. But they learned from it and look at the senior leadership they have because of the fires those guys went through. Senior guards is like gold in this business."
Hooker, a sophomore, was 8 of 14 from the floor with a game-high eight rebounds, while adding three steals. His older brother Marquel, a senior who is averaging 22.4 points a game, was limited to just nine. But the tandem got the opportunity to celebrate a section title as teammates.
"I didn't just want to get it just for my brother," Marcus Hooker said. "I wanted to get it for my whole team. We were working really hard in the gym and I could tell that everybody was razor sharp at practice and how we wanted it that bad."
Marcus Hooker scored 11 of his points in the second quarter as the 'Canes pushed an 11-10 lead after one quarter to 24-18 at the half.
"I was just staying focused and keeping my head on a swivel and finishing like coach tells us to do," Marcus Hooker said. "He tells us to keep pushing and pushing."
Beaver Falls turned the ball over 12 times in the first half, including six in each quarter.
"Marcus was able to parlay some of the turnovers into buckets on the other end in the second quarter," Blundo said. "We needed that. We need a couple of easy buckets in the second quarter at that point."
Biega acknowledged his team had a tough time with Marcus Hooker.
"He just made shots," Biega said. "It's difficult for us to get out there and pressure with bigs and they know that. When they're guard oriented, then our bigs have to go out there and chase and there's always going to be space. You have to guard against the drive. He's a really good, elite athlete."
Stone was a key component to New Castle taking firm control of the contest in the second half. He netted five points in the third period and six markers in the final frame. All of his fourth-quarter points came on 3-pointers.
Stone was 7 of 15 from the floor.
"We needed it real bad," Stone said of the importance of the game. "Beaver Falls is a big game and you always want to win those games. That's what we came out to do. We played with a hunger."
Said Blundo of Marcus Hooker and Stone, "I thought both guys played really well tonight. Both guys rebounded the basketball well. They were in the right places all night. They played hard. To rebound the ball the way they did is important."
New Castle, which led by 17 points on three different occasions in the third quarter, settled for a 46-31 buffer through three stanzas. Beaver Falls got as close as 11 in the final frame but that was it.
The 'Canes had the game pretty well in hand at 58-40 after Stone's second 3-pointer of the fourth period with 3:56 remaining.
Micah Fulena continued his superb play running New Castle's offense, handing out six assists with his six points. He turned the ball over just once. In the previous matchup against Ambridge, Fulena dished out 16 assists with zero turnovers.
The Tigers turned the ball over 27 times, while New Castle lost possession just five times.
Josh Creach collected a team-best 16 points for Beaver Falls.
The 'Canes return to action at 7:30 p.m. Friday when they travel to section foe Ellwood City Lincoln (4-9, 8-12).
"Ellwood City is next and it's my job to make sure we're ready to play," Blundo said.