New Castle (73) Vs. Quaker Valley (58)
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
PITTSBURGH — The trophy case at New Castle High School is getting a new addition.
Four players scored in double figures as the Red Hurricane locked up the program’s 11th WPIAL championship at the University of Pittsburgh’s Petersen Events Center on Saturday.
Senior Geno Stone led the quartet in scoring and he also capped the game off by dribbling out the remaining 10 seconds and setting off a wild celebration by his teammates. Stone tossed in 23 points as New Castle pulled away for a 73-58 WPIAL Class 4A victory over Section 2 rival Quaker Valley.
It’s the second win in three meetings for the ‘Canes this year over the Quakers.
“I’m really happy for this group,” said seventh-year New Castle coach Ralph Blundo. “They got to experience something special.
“They had tremendous success following the hard work they put in. Just to be able to see their faces and see how happy they are is really special.”
The championship is Blundo’s fourth as coach. He won three straight in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Blundo’s message to the team in the locker room following the medal ceremony was a simple one. But it’s one that every member of the team will remember for a lifetime.
“Not everyone gets to do this. Don’t take it for granted,” he said. “You’re a WPIAL champion for life. And you wrote your own story.”
New Castle (23-2) will get to savor the championship feeling for a bit, but not too long. The ‘Canes, ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class 4A by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, will compete in the PIAA playoffs against Sharon at 3 p.m. Saturday at Butler High School.
Quaker Valley (22-3), ranked No. 2 in the WPIAL in Class 4A by the Post-Gazette also advances to the state playoffs and will meet Harbor Creek at 3 p.m. Saturday at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic High School.
Stone helped the top-seeded ‘Canes get off to a strong start, scoring seven first-quarter points as the team built an 18-14 margin after one period.
“There was a good flow to start the game and I was into it,” Stone said. “We all had to do our job and it paid off.”
Stone was 7 of 16 from the field with a game-high eight assists. He pulled down three rebounds as well. Stone set the tone early, nailing a 3-pointer 21 seconds into game for the first points of the contest.
“That seemed to get us rolling,” Blundo said of Stone’s trifecta. “We were comfortable tonight.
“We got the ball in the right people’s hands at the right time. Geno has played well all year. He’s really an intelligent kid; he’s a great athlete and a great competitor. He’s everything a mother and father could ever want.”
New Castle ran out to a 10-2 lead with 5:26 left in the opening frame before Quaker Valley closed to 18-14 after one stanza.
The second-seeded Quakers went on an 8-0 run, taking their first lead of the game at 19-18 and pushing it to 22-18. But the ‘Canes responded with an 8-0 run of their own, capped off by a field goal by Lorenzo Gardner. New Castle never trailed the rest of the way.
Marcus Hooker and his ‘Canes teammates knew there would be runs his team would have to overcome.
“We had to stay calm and focused on what we needed to do,” he said.
“We knew that it was going to be a game of runs and we would have to keep our composure,” said senior New Castle guard Gino DeMonaco. “We were able to stop them in crunch time.
Said Blundo of the runs, “It was like that the first two times we played. It didn’t feel like a 15-point game. They’re always within striking distance.”
The second half belonged to the ‘Canes and it started in the third quarter.
Hooker opened the half with a basket and Stone tossed in 10 of his tallies in third stanza. Quaker Valley got as close as four points (32-28) before New Castle took its biggest lead to that point at 50-36 on a 3-pointer by Stone with 10 seconds left.
Amos Luptak closed the quarter with a field goal and the ‘Canes led 50-38 after three periods.
DeMonaco was held scoreless in the first half, but he buried a 3-pointer in the third period to get rolling.
“Coach just told us (at halftime) to keep playing hard,” DeMonaco said. “We’re 16 minutes away from becoming champs. Limit our turnovers.”
DeMonaco helped seal the title by draining three more 3-pointers in the fourth period and finishing with 12 markers.
“I think they made it tough on him in the first half,” Blundo said of Quaker Valley’s defense on DeMonaco. “He got a lot of shots late and he made a couple of 3s on the back end that were really big.
“They didn’t go away in the fourth quarter. The 3s were huge.”
The Quakers tried to battle back in the fourth quarter, cutting the deficit to 59-51 with 3:46 to go. But it was as close as they would get the rest of the way.
“When a team is pressuring the way they were, you can’t control tempo or you will turn it over,” Blundo said. “We got some looks on the back end that sealed the game. You can’t be passive against good pressure.”
Luptak poured in a game-high 29 points to lead Quaker Valley. Sixteen of his tallies came in the second half.
“He’s a great player,” Hooker said of Lupak. “He can finish and he can handle the ball well. He’s a great point guard.”
Said Blundo of Luptak, “He’s a four-year starter at point guard and guys like that are gold. He’s a winner and he’s intelligent; he’s a headache to prepare for.”
Senior guard Garrett Farah posted 15 points, five assists and four rebounds for New Castle. Hooker contributed 13 markers with a game-best 13 rebounds and three assists.
“On the biggest stage, you guys made the biggest plays. I’m so proud of you,” Blundo told his team in the locker room after the medal ceremony.