Ohio State coach sees Hooker, ’Canes shine
New Castle (93) Vs. Pine-Richland (61)
Jan 22, 2014
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
New Castle High’s Malik Hooker put on a show for his future football coach at Ohio State, Urban Meyer.
And Anthony Richards was stellar as well for the host Red Hurricane.
Hooker tied his season high with 36 markers and Richards was next with a career-best 28, lifting New Castle to a 93-61 WPIAL 3-AAAA win over Pine-Richland at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House.
The ’Canes (9-0 section, 15-0 overall) are ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class AAAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and No. 2 in the state by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg. New Castle, the two-time defending WPIAL champions, ran its home winning streak to 32 straight and their section winning streak to 36. The ’Canes, who have won 71 of their last 73 games overall, extended their regular-season win streak to 61.
New Castle was coming off a grueling week which ended 3-0 after wins over Hampton — the state’s second-ranked team at the time in Class AAAA — Butler and Lower Merion. The Aces eliminated the ’Canes in the state semifinals last season.
“I think that we’ve proven over time that we give for the most part the same focus and intensity game in and game out,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “But I’d be lying if I wasn’t concerned after having North Allegheny, Hampton, Butler and Lower Merion in an eight-day period. Our focus as a staff all week, in practice and even in the pre-game, was bringing that energy that makes us successful to the table.”
Hooker, a 6-foot-1 senior guard/forward, has verbally committed to continue his football career at Ohio State under Meyer, who was in the stands. Hooker was 14 of 16 from the field with 10 rebounds.
Hooker netted 24 of his points in the first half.
“If I’m Urban Meyer and I’m sitting in the stands and I see Malik Hooker, who has 34 points at the time and we’re up 71-41 and he’s the first guy to the floor for a loose ball, I’m thinking to myself that’s my kind of guy,” Blundo said of the effort Hooker displayed. “Malik played a great game.”
Meyer declined to comment on Hooker’s effort, citing NCAA rules.
Also in attendance was Ball State University football coach Pete Lembo. New Castle’s Jake McPhatter gave a verbal commitment to continue his football career at the Mid-American Conference school.
Richards was 10 of 12 from the field, including 8 of 10 from behind the arc. He handed out four assists as well. Richards now has 958 career points.
“He’s been consistent all year,” Blundo said of Richards. “He works so hard at 3-point shooting. He deserves to make them and he does.”
Richards tallied four 3-pointers in the second quarter to account for his 12 points in the period.
“My guys were making plays, they were getting to the bucket,” Richards said. “When they get to the bucket, it opens things up for me to shoot. They were getting in the paint.
“When we get paint touches, people collapse, when they collapse, people make the right play and they kick it out. I knocked my shots down tonight.”
The Rams (3-6, 6-9) hung in with ’Canes early, trailing 20-12 after one quarter and 22-16 with 6:47 to go in the half. However, New Castle closed the half on a 32-15 run for a 54-31 halftime advantage.
“The energy was pretty good,” Blundo said. “I thought that Pine-Richland made some tough shots early. We were contesting them and did some things.”
Drew Allen and Robert Natale chipped in with 11 points apiece for the winners. The ’Canes were a sizzling 33 of 41 from the floor, but just 16 of 29 from the foul line.
“We shot it really well from the field (last night). But not quite as well as I would like from the free-throw line, but that’s something that we’ll continue to work on,” Blundo said. “The foul shooting is just a bit too inconsistent for me.”
Dean Steliotes tossed in a team-high 16 points for Pine-Richland.
New Castle returns to action at 7:30 p.m. Friday at section foe North Hills.
“They’re playing better and it’s a road game in the section,” Blundo said. “We’ll prepare for them like we do for every other team.”