Victory puts ’Canes back in playoffs
New Castle (63) Vs. Blackhawk (42)
Jan 24, 2015
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
The New Castle High boys basketball team is going back to the playoffs.
But the Red Hurricane says its work is far from done.
Three New Castle players reached double figures in a 63-42 WPIAL Section 2-AAA victory over Blackhawk at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House, a win that put the ’Canes back into the postseason.
It’s the seventh straight trip to the WPIAL playoffs for New Castle. The win also keeps the ’Canes (9-1 section, 14-3 overall) just one game back of section-leading Beaver Falls (10-0, 15-2). The Tigers clinched a playoff berth Tuesday with their win over Blackhawk (2-8, 2-14).
New Castle is the defending PIAA champion and three-time defending WPIAL champ.
“We don’t have any goals, except to get better every day. Playoffs isn’t a goal. The WPIAL championship isn’t a goal,” fifth-year New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “But getting better and concentrating on what we’re doing in the moment is our focus.
“Certainly we’re pleased that we have secured that playoff spot. But right now, we’re focusing on Sunday’s practice and how we can be better moving forward.”
Robert Natale paced the ’Canes with 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting. He also handed out four assists.
Micah Fulena and Marquel Hooker chipped in with 15 markers apiece. The points marked a career high for Fulena, who is a junior guard.
“They tried to take some things away for us and Micah made them pay,” Blundo said. “Micah is a good basketball player.
“I think what a lot of people in the league don’t realize is that he had a stress fracture in his back all year. He’s just now getting healthy. With him getting healthy, his conditioning is getting better and all that combined with confidence comes with being healthy and being in better shape. He’s already put the work in to be a better player. Now you’re starting to see the effects of it.”
Fulena was 6 of 10 from the floor with a team-high eight assists to go along with his three rebounds. His previous career high was 11 points, notched two times earlier in the season.
Fulena came into the game averaging 7.4 points a game over his previous five games and 6.2 on the season.
“All the credit goes to the other guys,” Fulena said. “When you have to key on a guy like Robert Natale and Marquel Hooker, that leaves me open for the shots that I got. So that’s a credit to those guys.
“I’ve just been playing through (the stress fracture). It’s been taken care of with therapy every day. I’m getting better and getting in shape. I’m kind of dealing with it and I feel good. My confidence was a little bit low at the beginning of the season. Texts from coach, him always saying keep your confidence high and things like that; I think that’s played a major reason why I’ve been playing a lot better.”
Fulena is in his first season as a starter. He acknowledged the team can’t lose focus because of last night’s playoff clinching.
“We still have five games left that we have to take care of,” he said. “We’re just worried about one game at a time right now.”
Hooker was 6 of 12 from the floor, including seven rebounds, five steals and four assists. He netted 12 of his points in the first half as New Castle built a 32-23 halftime advantage.
“We were pleased with Marquel’s effort,” Blundo said. “He’s been in foul trouble because of poor positioning and tonight he was much better.”
The ’Canes trailed just twice at 2-0 and 7-5. The game was tied twice as well, 5-5 and 7-7.
New Castle forced 17 Cougars turnovers, including eight in the first quarter. But the ’Canes led just 18-12 after one stanza.
“When you look at the number of extra possessions that we had in the first quarter, but you’re only up six, that tells you we’re not being very efficient offensively,” Blundo said. “We have to be better there.”
Fulena echoed Blundo’s frustration.
“We had so many extra possessions, but we were only up by six points,” he said. “We have to be better at that. The energy is great and we have to keep that going. That can take it to the next level.”
New Castle collected a 32-23 margin at the break, equaling its largest of the half. The ’Canes scored the first six points of the second half to take command.
The hosts led 49-38 going to the final frame.
Chance Siaus supplied a game-high 19 points for the Cougars.
New Castle was 27 of 56 from the floor, compared to 17 of 40 for Blackhawk. But Blundo belives that percentage could have been higher.
“The lack of finishes inside,” he said. “We had a lot of opportunties. We’re not going to complain. We won the game. But we’re thinking about how we can be better, and that’s what we talked about (after the game).
“Where can we be better, how can we grow? How can we get to where we want to get? That’s where we’re at right now.”
New Castle returns to action at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday when it travels to section foe Hopewell (2-8. 5-12). It’s the start of a three-game road trip for the ’Canes.
“It’s a section road game. They are a team that hasn’t had a great year, but they have beat some good teams,” Blundo said. “We know we have to be ready.”