New Castle holds on to eliminate Beaver Falls
New Castle (56) Vs. Beaver Falls (52)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News

WEXFORD — The charter bus is warming up.

And the 'Cane Train is ready, too.

The New Castle High boys basketball team conquered Beaver Falls for a third time Tuesday, completing a clean sweep of the season series and moving on in the PIAA Class AAA playoffs. The previous two wins came in WPIAL Section 2 action.

Marquel Hooker scored a team-high 21 points and his younger brother Marcus netted the game-clinching free throw with 7.3 seconds to go, lifting the Red Hurricane to a 56-52 win over the Tigers in front of a capacity crowd of 2,400 in the second round of the state playoffs at North Allegheny High School.

Sixth-year coach Ralph Blundo capped his postgame speech to the squad in style.

"Someone call (New Castle athletic director) Sammy Flora and tell him to get the charter bus ready," Blundo roared with enthusiasm. The team erupted with a cheer and now it's on to the state quarterfinals. New Castle (25-2) will meet Bishop McDevitt (22-6), a 62-60 winner over Archbishop Carroll, on Friday at a time and site to be announced.

"We're going to go to work and prepare to get ready to play," Blundo said of the team's next challenge.

The 'Canes just couldn't seem to put Beaver Falls (24-4) away. New Castle led 53-42 with 2:21 to go in the fourth quarter, but Josh Creach scored 16 of his game-high 37 points in the fourth period to rally the Tigers.

Eight of Creach's points came in the last 2:21 of the game.

"Creach made plays as a guard and he made plays on the interior with tip-ins. He did it every way you can do it," Blundo said.

Creach buried a deep 3-pointer with 28 seconds remaining to close the deficit to 55-52. New Castle's Geno Stone went to the line for a one-and-one on the next possession, but he missed the front end, giving the Tigers hope when they grabbed the rebound.

Beaver Falls pushed the ball up the floor, but instead of Creach firing away from the perimeter, it was Donovan Jeter who launched a 3-point attempt. Jeter's shot was long and Marcus Hooker snared the rebound. He was fouled with 7.3 seconds remaining, making the trip to the other end for a two-shot foul.

Marcus Hooker's first freebie was off the mark, after which he backed away from the foul line briefly to collect himself. That was all he needed to seal the deal. Marcus Hooker calmly tossed in the second shot to send the New Castle faithful into a frenzy and push the lead to four points.

"I just thought about clearing my head," Marcus Hooker said. "I thought about making that shot for my team. I said to myself I can't miss this. I just kept my eye on the rim and watched it go through."

Said Marquel Hooker, "I have faith in him. He just needed to calm down and take a breath. He shot the free throw and he made it just like I knew he would."

And when it went through, it made it a two-possession game and both teams were out of timeouts. Blundo was cautious with his team up four, a foul on a made 3-pointer could have been enough to send the game into an extra session.

"Marcus made the one that counted," Blundo said. "That was a big free throw. We knew we needed one. But we didn't have a timeout to be able to tell Marcus that if you make the second one they have no timeouts left, let them score. He made it."

The Tigers raced down the other end and launched a 3-pointer that was off the mark, but the clock didn't start on time. After the officials discussed the time remaining, the clock was reset to 1.3 seconds. The 'Canes inbounded the ball, dribbled out the remaining time and celebrated another big win over Beaver Falls.

"It's Beaver Falls and New Castle. I think that says enough right there," Blundo said of the rivalry. "We're two programs that have had similar success over the years. There's a tremendous amount of respect amongst the two programs.

"Not all rivalries are that respectful. We cheer for each other when it's not us. I was just happy that we got that win."

The 'Canes built double-digit leads in the third and fourth quarters, but never fully took control. New Castle built its biggest leads of 15 at 36-21 and 38-23 in the third period, the latter advantage coming with 3:16 to go on a bucket by Marcus Hooker.

"They executed very well to open up the second half," Tigers coach Doug Biega said. "They obviously made some adjustments to our adjustments that we made in the second quarter.

"They executed well and shot well and, to our kids credit, they kind of righted the ship when it got to 15 and that’s a make-or-break area. We couldn’t give up any more and we didn’t, we battled back and it was a game from that point forward."

Beaver Falls regrouped and trimmed the lead to 38-31 going to the final frame. Creach collected 12 points in the third quarter.

In fact, Creach and Jeter were the lone players to reach the scoreboard for the Tigers in the second half. Creach poured in 28 markers after halftime and Jeter added five.

"They're 6-6 and 6-7 playing against 5-11 guys," Blundo said of Creach and Jeter. "Doug (Biega) does a great job of utilizing those guys in a way where they are really effective."

The 'Canes' Pat Minenok continued his strong presence inside Tuesday night. He's battled bigger players throughout the playoffs and against the Tigers he was effective altering shots, making looks at the basket a bit tougher and getting on the floor for loose balls.

"I know my role. I know I'm not the tallest guy, that's for sure," Minenok said. "But I can use my leverage and my quickness to get around people and get inside position on people. I just have to keep digging because I don't want to let my teammates down."

Creach gave Beaver Falls its only lead at 2-0 on a basket 58 seconds into the game. Marquel Hooker dialed in a 3-pointer on the other end just seven seconds later and the 'Canes never trailed or were locked in a tie the rest of the way.

New Castle built the lead to 17-9 in the second stanza and then to 25-16. But Beaver Falls battled and capped the half with a 3-pointer by Bryce Stratti to trail 25-19 at the break.

"That was huge. This is what state playoff basketball is all about," Blundo said of playing with the lead throughout the game. "Coaches are good. The players are good and you have to outplay them.

"We're pretty good at getting on to the next play, but we certainly didn't want that (Stratti 3-pointer) to happen."

Marquel Hooker was 9 of 15 from the field with five rebounds, four assists and four steals. Marcus Hooker chipped in 18 points on 8-of-13 shooting. He added a team-best nine rebounds.

Geno Stone supplied 13 markers for the winners, including a pair of clutch foul shots with 39 seconds remaining to put the 'Canes up 55-49 as well as a big 3-pointer that put New Castle up 53-42.

"Marcus is young. He's able to maintain his composure in a hostile environment," Blundo said. "Marquel is a winner. I want to coach them as long as I can coach them and Marquel wants to play as long as he can play and he played that way tonight.

"That three that Geno Stone hit was gigantic. We knew we needed one more and they were making it hard to get one more."

Game Scoreboard
New Castle 10 15 13 18 0 56
Beaver Falls 8 11 12 21 0 52
Box Scores
Torian Leak 0 0-0 0
Bryce Stratti 2 1-2 6
Malik Shepherd 1 0-0 2
Josh Creach 15 2-3 37
Donovan Jeter 3 1-2 7
Syron Noyes 0 0-0 0
Totals: 21 4-7 52

Marquel Hooker 9 1-1 21
Geno Stone 5 2-3 13
Pat Minenok 1 0-0 2
Micah Fulena 1 0-1 2
Te'Quawn Stewart 0 0-0 0
Marcus Hooker 8 1-2 18
Gino DeMonaco 0 0-0 0
Garrett Farah 0 0-0 0
Totals: 24 4-7 56

BEAVER FALLS 8 11 12 21 — 52
NEW CASTLE 10 15 13 18 — 56

3-point goals — Beaver Falls 6 (Stratti 1, Creach 5), New Castle 4 (Marq. Hooker 2, Stone 1, Marc. Hooker 1).
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