’Canes overcome sluggish start
New Castle (55) Vs. Central Valley (46)
Dec 17, 2014
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
The New Castle High boys basketball team struggled through a sluggish first half last night.
The Red Hurricane couldn’t get into a groove offensively, scoring just 19 total points while turning the ball over six times — including five in the second quarter.
But New Castle regrouped in the third quarter and rallied for a 55-46 WPIAL Section 2-AAA win over Central Valley at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House. It’s the 43rd consecutive section win for New Castle (2-0 section, 4-1 overall).
The ’Canes rallied from a 25-19 halftime deficit on the strength of a 17-1 run during the third quarter to take the lead for good.
“It didn’t look like a team that I prepared and coached,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said of his team’s performance in the first half. “I just thought that we didn’t play nearly as hard as New Castle typically plays and that was tough for me to handle. I certainly let them know that at halftime.”
New Castle’s defensive intensity picked up in the third period, forcing nine Warriors turnovers as the hosts won the quarter, 22-8.
“It was more about (New Castle) playing harder in the third quarter,” Blundo said. “We played with more energy and got our hands on more loose balls and were able to finish on the other end.”
Central Valley (0-1, 0-3) led 32-24 when Chris Anastas drained a pair of foul shots with 5:12 to go in the third quarter. But the ’Canes closed the quarter on a 17-1 run to carry a 41-33 advantage into the final frame.
Marquel Hooker’s field goal inside with 3:39 to go in the third put New Castle up for good at 35-33.
“We were able to do a couple of things offensively, finishing buckets,” Blundo said. “We got them on their heels a little bit.”
Robert Natale scored nine of his team-high 12 points in the third quarter.
“(Blundo) was just saying we need to play harder,” Natale said of Blundo’s halftime message. “I think from last year to now, that’s where we grew. We didn’t let a bad first half get to us, we came out and played hard.
“We could tell we were on a run, but we’re always pushing ourselves to play better defense.”
Natale was 5 of 13 from the floor with five assists, four rebounds and three steals. Geno Stone chipped in with 11 markers on 5-of-8 shooting with three rebounds and three steals.
New Castle caught a break when Central Valley’s Adam Kline was whistled for his fourth foul just 22 seconds into the third quarter. Kline went to the bench and didn’t return until the fourth period.
“He’s an inside presence for them and he can do some things,” Blundo said of Kline. “They did some really good things with him out of the game, too.”
The ’Canes opened up a 13-point lead on two separate occasions in the fourth quarter. The Warriors never got closer than nine in the final frame.
New Castle trailed most of the first quarter, including 15-13 after one. The ’Canes managed just six second-quarter points and trailed 25-19 at the break. New Castle went scoreless for 3:17 during the stanza.
“We didn’t communicate as well as Coach Blundo wanted us to,” Natale said of the first half. “When we trap like that, we have to get back on defense. We didn’t do a good job of communicating, but we did a good job in the second half.”
Anastas tossed in a game-high 14 points for Central Valley.
It’s the second consecutive game that the ’Canes have dug a first-half hole and managed to climb out.
“I can’t speak to what it is, but it’s not acceptable, that’s for sure,” Blundo said. “One thing that’s not compromised is how hard we play and the focus that we enter with each game.
“We want to play the same way for 32 minutes. We picked it up in the third quarter. But that’s bad basketball in my opinion. You have to do the same for 32 minutes.”
New Castle returns to action at 8 p.m. Friday when it travels to rival Blackhawk for a section matchup. The ’Canes’ last league loss was a 58-54 setback on the Cougars’ home floor Feb. 8, 2011.