New Castle rallies for win, sews up playoff berth
New Castle (53) Vs. Blackhawk (46)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
The New Castle High boys basketball team got back in the win column Friday night.
And clinched a playoff berth in the process.
Geno Stone scored all 16 of his points in the second half to help rally the Red Hurricane to a 53-46 WPIAL Section 2-4A win over Blackhawk at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House.
It's the ninth straight playoff berth for New Castle (9-1 section, 15-2 overall), which is ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL in Class 4A by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
"It's a great thing to know that we're in," said seventh-year 'Canes coach Ralph Blundo. "The guys need a much-deserved day off Saturday. Deserved only because I think it's a little bit of mental fatigue right now. We're throwing a lot at them."
New Castle was coming off a tough 60-54 section road loss at Quaker Valley on Tuesday. It was just the 13th regular-season loss for the 'Canes during Blundo's tenure.
New Castle didn't appear to show any signs of a letdown early, racing to an 8-0 lead. But the Cougars (4-6, 7-10 quickly turned the tables for a 15-8 lead with 33 seconds to go in the opening frame.
"Even when we were up 8-0 we were flat. The ball just went in there," Blundo said. "It was reflective of two practices that after a tough loss, I really did my best to pull energy out of them over the last two days and I have to do better. We had two bad days of practice and we didn't play well today. That comes down to me. I have to get more out of them.
"We don't lose a lot and when you don't lose a lot you don't always know how to respond. Usually when we lose or if we lose it's in the playoffs at some point and the season is over. Responding and understanding how to respond is a coach's job to teach. I thought the message was clear, but maybe it wasn't. Obviously it wasn't. I'll find another way to get the message across."
Blackhawk settled for a 15-10 lead after one quarter and led the whole second stanza, forging a 28-19 buffer at the break.
"They got that run and our shots weren't falling," Stone said. "We had to get together and get everything going again. Every game is going to be tough like this the rest of the season."
The 'Canes struggled throughout the opening half knocking down shots, especially from the perimeter.
"They weren't doing much, they were in a 3-2 zone and our shots weren't falling," Stone said. "I knew my shot was going to come to me eventually."
And it did, for Stone. He buried a trio of triples in the third period to help rally New Castle. Stone's second trifecta tied the game at 36 with 2:31 remaining in the third quarter and his third of the canto put the 'Canes up for good at 39-38 with 59 seconds to go.
"Usually the ball goes in, but they've been going in and out," Stone said of his shots as well as the team's from long range. "They started to go in in the second half."
Stone was 6 of 14 from the field with a team-high six rebounds. He shared team-best honors in assists (6) with Garrett Farah.
"Geno has made big shots for us all year and he did again for us tonight," Blundo said. "He made a couple of plays for us in the fourth as well. If he doesn't, we don't win. It's really that simple."
Stone, a football standout as well, is visiting the University of Iowa on Saturday for his final college recruiting visit. He gave a verbal commitment in late December to Kent State University.
Georgie Eggleston's bucket inside with two seconds left gave the hosts a 41-38 advantage going to the fourth. Blackhawk got to within 41-40 19 seconds into the final frame but wouldn't get any closer the rest of the way.
Stone buried his fourth 3-pointer with 7:25 remaining to push the 'Canes to a 44-40 advantage. The Cougars failed on their possession and then Blundo called for a stall on the next offensive trip.
Farah stood just across the half-court line and dribbled just over three minutes off the clock.
"We were up four and we finally got a lead. We didn't feel they could guard us man to man," Blundo said. "We felt if we could pull them out and spread the floor like we did we could get some layups and we did."
Gino DeMonaco also netted 16 points for the 'Canes on 5-of-10 shooting. He added four rebounds as well. Marcus Hooker contributed nine markers for the victors.
A.J. Long led all scorers with 21 points for Blackhawk.
New Castle visits league foe Hopewell at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.