New Castle boys snare section title
New Castle (71) Vs. Beaver (53)
The New Castle High boys basketball team locked up at least a share of the section championship Tuesday night.
Marcus Hooker led three Red Hurricane players in double figures with 18 points to pace the squad to a 71-53 WPIAL Section 2-4A win over Beaver at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House.
It's the sixth section crown in coach Ralph Blundo's seven-year tenure.
"It's great to win the section. Right now, obviously, it's co-section champs," Blundo said. "We sure would love to win it outright. It's a great accomplishment.
"Coming into the year, it was the toughest section in 4A. I'm just glad my players had a chance to experience it."
New Castle (12-1 section, 18-2 overall), which is ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class 4A by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, can win the crown outright with a win Friday at Beaver Falls (8-5, 11-7) or a Quaker Valley (11-2, 19-2) loss at home against Ambridge (4-9, 7-13). A Quakers win and a 'Canes loss would force a split of the league crown.
"It feels great to be in this position right now," Hooker said. "The only thing we have to do is keep working hard at practice and be ready Friday night."
The win also pushed Blundo's career record to 198-23, which includes a 26-2 mark in one season on the bench at George Junior Republic.
"I've been blessed to have real good players," Blundo said. "I've never walked into a basketball season thinking that I didn't have some talented basketball players to work with and win some games with. Not every coach gets that."
The Bobcats (6-7, 10-11) rallied late in the first quarter to forge a 17-15 lead at the end of the stanza. Beaver then took its largest lead of the game at 28-19 on a Dante Anzevino bucket with 4:32 remaining in the half.
Darius Wise scored 15 of his game-high 25 points in the first half.
"Darius Wise is just so good. He's a world-class athlete," Blundo said. "He's really hard to stay in front of."
The 'Canes dug in though defensively and they closed the half on a 16-2 run for a 35-31 margin at the break.
"We just kept pushing it at them and kept the pressure on them," Hooker said of the run.
That run spilled over to the third period as New Castle pushed the lead to 42-31 with 6:22 to go in the frame.
"We made a couple of shots and we got a couple of transition buckets," Blundo said of his team's success during the run. "We got some finishes, too. In high school basketball, you have to find a way to get some easy baskets, either on offensive rebounds or turnovers.
"We got enough of those tonight and that was the difference in the game."
Anzevino ended the run with a basket with 6:10 left in the third to cut it to 42-33. But Hooker's 3-pointer on the next possession gave the hosts a 45-33 advantage and the lead stayed in double figures the rest of the way.
Defense was the secret to New Castle's second-half success. Wise netted just 10 points in the second half and the team notched 22 total.
"They kept pushing the ball up the court in the first half. We weren't really doing a good job of stopping the ball," Hooker said. "We decided to change our game plan and work harder on defense."
Said Blundo, "I thought we did a much better job on Wise in the second half. We gapped him a little bit better and we were getting stops when we needed to. We thought if we held them to 10 a quarter we would win the game and we did that."
Hooker, who was 6 of 10 from the field, added a team-high 10 rebounds to go with four assists. Geno Stone tossed in 17 markers with six assists and four boards.
Te'Quawn Stewart added 14 markers with nine rebounds. Garrett Farah handed out a team-high nine assists to go with his eight points.
"Geno Stone was solid tonight. I thought he played winning basketball," Blundo said. "He did a lot right, he was smart and got the ball into the hands of the right people at the right times."
"When Te'Quawn had opportunities, he finished."
Blundo expects a playoff-type atmosphere Friday night at Beaver Falls.
"I'm really excited for it," he said. "If I'm a kid, there's nothing else you can ask for. New Castle and Beaver Falls at Beaver Falls. It's the last section game of the year for all the marbles. If you're a competitor, that's what you live for."