‘Canes advanced to WPIAL Class AAA semifinals
New Castle (78) Vs. West Allegheny (47)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News

BEAVER FALLS — A familiar visit is up next for the New Castle High boys basketball team — the WPIAL semifinals.

The Red Hurricane punched its sixth consecutive ticket to the district's Final Four on Friday night, all under sixth-year coach Ralph Blundo.

But this one took some work early on.

West Allegheny scored the game's first six points and battled New Castle to a draw after one before the 'Canes took control for a 78-47 WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinal win at Geneva College.

"It's great to be in the semifinals. All you want is an opportunity," Blundo said. "Now we have an opportunity. We know whoever we play is going to create quite a challenge."

Top-seeded New Castle (23-1) will meet Highlands (20-4) in the semifinals. The Golden Rams advanced with a 62-50 decision over Hampton and the teams will meet Tuesday at a time and site to be determined.

The 'Canes are ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class AAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and No. 3 in the state by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg.

The win also sews up a berth in the PIAA playoffs for New Castle.

"We'll have to play well to win," Blundo said. "You're in the semifinals, there's no such thing as playing poorly and winning."

Last year, New Castle's bid for a fourth straight WPIAL championship was denied by Beaver Falls, 52-49.

"I feel like we're going to come out and play hard in the semifinals," said 'Canes senior guard Marquel Hooker. "It was a disappointment losing in the semifinals last year."

Indians coach Dan Marshall acknowledged the quality of the New Castle basketball program.

"That basketball team right there is ideally what you want to model your program after," he said. "Everything they do is hard.

"Our motto all year has just been to grow and learn."

New Castle started slowly against the Indians, missing its first five shots and digging a 6-0 hole just 2:59 into the fray.

"Sometimes the ball doesn't go in," Blundo assessed. "If we keep shooting we're going to knock them down. We weren't very good in the first quarter, but then things started to click after that."

Hooker helped the team regroup, tossing in eight of his game-high 26 markers in the opening period as the teams battled to a 17-all deadlock.

"He kept us in the game early," Blundo said. "Marquel is a great basketball player. We certainly expect that type of play out of him."

Said Hooker, "I think we were just taking rushed shots. Coach told us in a timeout to take our time and then we started to get in the flow of the game."

That flow spelled doom for West Allegheny. Garrett Farah put the 'Canes up for good at 22-19 on a 3-pointer with 5:27 to go in the opening half.

West Allegheny turned the ball over seven times in each of the first two quarters, allowing New Castle to build a 35-23 margin at the break. The Indians finished with 28 total turnovers.

"I just think we dug in defensively," Blundo said of the second quarter. "We were able to generate a couple of turnovers and we got some easy buckets on the other end. That got us going.

"We generated a number of turnovers throughout the course of the game and that was really a difference."

West Allegheny got as close as 13 points twice in the third quarter, the last time at 41-28 on a Kenny White field goal. But the 'Canes kept pushing the lead out and settled for a 58-36 advantage heading to the final frame.

Hooker was 11 of 21 from the floor with four steals and three rebounds. He had 10 points in the first half and tallied eight more in the third period.

Geno Stone supplied 15 points for New Castle on 6-of-13 shooting. He added nine rebounds, five steals and three assists. Marcus Hooker, Marquel's younger brother, tossed in 14 points with four assists and three boards.

Terence Stephens paced the Indians with 13 points, nine coming in the first quarter, to help them hang with the 'Canes. But Blundo's gang found a way to limit him the rest of the way.

"He's a big, strong kid; just a good athlete," Blundo said. "He finished a couple early. I thought he did some good things for them.

"That's a formidable opponent out there (West Allegheny). They have some talent."

The Indians will play Hampton, coached by Westminster College standout Joe Lafko, on Monday in the PIAA play-in bracket.

(Email: rponiewasz@ncnewsonline.com)
Game Scoreboard
New Castle 17 18 23 20 0 78
West Allegheny 17 6 13 11 0 47
Box Scores
Terence Stephens 6 1-1 13
Jared Lanni 3 3-4 10
Kenny White 3 0-1 7
Isaiah Crowe 3 0-0 6
Alijah Crowe 2 0-0 5
Brandon Lipford 1 0-1 2
Matthew Gardocki 0 0-1 0
Dez Franklin 0 0-0 0
Aaron Gervas 1 0-1 2
Michael Crawford 0 0-0 0
Kolbe Stout 0 0-0 0
Chad Bovalina 1 0-0 2
Totals: 20 4-9 47

Marquel Hooker 11 2-4 26
Geno Stone 6 0-0 15
Micah Fulena 2 2-2 6
Pat Minenok 1 2-2 4
Te'Quawn Stewart 0 0-0 0
Marcus Hooker 5 4-6 14
Lorenzo Gardner 3 0-0 6
Garrett Farah 2 0-0 5
Brandon Parchman 1 0-0 2
Chris Dorman 0 0-0 0
John Brown 0 0-0 0
Georgie Eggleston 0 0-0 0
Totals: 31 8-14 78.

WEST ALLEGHENY 17 6 13 11 — 47
NEW CASTLE 17 18 23 20 — 78

3-point goals — West Allegheny 3 (Lanni 1, White 1, Crowe 1), New Castle 6 (Marq. Hooker 2, Stone 3, Farah 1).
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