New Castle falls to Quaker Valley
New Castle (54) Vs. Quaker Valley (60)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
LEETSDALE — Losing is something the New Castle High boys basketball program doesn't have to digest very often.
The Red Hurricane had lost just 12 regular-season contests under seventh-year coach Ralph Blundo entering Tuesday's action.
Quaker Valley handed No. 13 to New Castle.
The 'Canes struggled offensively in the fourth quarter in dropping a 60-54 WPIAL Section 2-4A road game to the Quakers in front of a sell-out crowd. The gym seats just 600 and was packed during the junior varsity game.
Blundo's postgame message to his players covered the loss and how his team can grow from it.
"It's just one of those things that there is certain losses that you just feel that the team is going to be better because of it," he said. "We were in a close game and we were fortunate to win a couple of close games this year.
"There were a couple of things down the stretch that I'll be able to show them on film, a couple of plays defensively that we didn't take care of. A missed boxout and a missed switch on a back screen. Obviously you can't do those things, especially late in a game like that."
New Castle (8-1 section, 14-2 overall) dips into a first-place tie with Quaker Valley (8-1, 14-1). The 'Canes, ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class 4A by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, won the first meeting 54-53 on Dec. 23. The Quakers are ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL in Class 4A.
"We've played eight quarters and the games have been close both times," said veteran Quaker Valley coach Mike Mastroianni. "The first game sort of broke the same way this one did. They're very similar games."
Junior forward Marcus Hooker led the 'Canes with 20 points and seven rebounds. He was 6 of 13 from the field.
"Losing hurts and nobody likes to lose," Hooker said. "We just wanted it really bad. It hurts, but we're going to have to come back really strong."
Garrett Farah buried a 3-pointer with 4:05 remaining to put the 'Canes up 54-52. It marked the final points of the game for the guests.
The Quakers' Ricky Guss tied the game at 54 on a tip-in with 3:28 left and he gave the hosts the lead for good at 56-54 with a pair free throws with 2:54 to go.
Guss garnered six of his team-high 17 points in the fourth quarter.
"He caught the ball and finished," Blundo said. "He caught the ball around the hoop and made plays.
"You can see that that kid is a winner. Credit to him, he made some big plays tonight."
New Castle's Lorenzo Gardner misfired on a 3-pointer on the other end and Quaker Valley corralled the rebound. The Quakers then went in to a slower mode with possession of the ball and the lead.
Geno Stone was off on a 3-pointer attempt with 58 seconds to go for the 'Canes and Guss pulled down the board. Danny Conlan put Quaker Valley up 58-54 with 42 seconds left on a bucket inside.
"It was a matter of a couple of plays and they were able to get the lead and shorten the game a little bit," Blundo said. "It's unfortunate, but that's reality."
New Castle started strong, racing out to a 20-9 lead with 2:58 to go in the opening quarter. The 'Canes hit nine 3-pointers in the game and six of them came in the first stanza.
"We shot it well for a period and then we cooled off a little bit," Blundo said. "I give guys credit, they made big shots in a great environment. In a big game, that's gutsy."
Quaker Valley settled down and cut the deficit to 22-19 after one quarter. New Castle clung to a 33-31 buffer at the break.
"We made shots and we were getting some stops. But we had a couple of breakdowns defensively and that let them back in the game," Blundo said. "They're just good players. When you're guarding them, you're doing the best job you can, but sometimes the other team just makes some plays and they did."
Said Mastroianni of the opening period, "They shot the ball well in the first quarter. That got them into their press and slowed us down early. They controlled the tempo for the first half. What I thought was important is we were only down two at the half with how well they shot the ball."
The teams entered the final frame knotted at 47.
Stone contributed 13 points for New Castle and Farah added 11. Gardner entered the starting lineup in place of Te'Quawn Stewart, who had surgery Monday for a broken nose.
"We were a little shorthanded tonight without Te'Quawn," Blundo said. "We didn't have much depth. Zo is a good basketball player and he knows what he's doing. He did some good things for us tonight."
Mastroianni, who doubles as Quaker Valley's athletic director, said the game sold out at 1 p.m. Monday.
Both schools anticipate a third matchup and possibly a fourth.
"There's a chance we seem them again," Blundo said. "We're going to have to do a lot to get there. There's a long way to go."
"Maybe more than once," Mastroianni said of seeing the 'Canes again. "They're really good."
New Castle returns to action at 7:30 p.m. Friday when it hosts section rival Blackhawk (4-5, 6-9).