’Canes hold on for win over Ambridge
New Castle (56) Vs. Ambridge (48)
Jan 31, 2015
By Joe Sager
New Castle News
AMBRIDGE — New Castle may not be perfect this season.
Last night, though, the Red Hurricane was nearly flawless down the stretch. The team closed the game with an 11-4 run to post a 56-48 win at Ambridge in a grueling WPIAL Section 2-AAA boys basketball battle.
The triumph gives New Castle (11-1 section, 16-3 overall) a shot at a share of the section championship — something many thought was impossible following the mass graduation from last year’s 31-0 WPIAL and PIAA Class AAAA championship squad — when the team visits Beaver Falls (12-0, 17-2) on Tuesday.
“I am so proud of my guys for so many reasons. We lost a lot of guys from last year, obviously. Coming into the year, they worked so hard and wanted to put themselves in a position just like this,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “They focused on the process and kept getting better. Are we great? No, but I think the kids are doing the very best they can and look where we are — we have a chance to win a section championship. I am really proud of them.”
The Tigers beat the ’Canes, 62-60, on Jan. 9 to snap New Castle’s section winning streak at 46.
“That game is one we were looking forward to. We had to beat Ambridge first,” New Castle’s Micah Fulena said. “The guys are excited. We have a couple days to prepare. These are the type of games you live for — to go down there in a hostile environment. We’ll be ready for it.”
The ’Canes were ready for a battle from the Bridgers (8-4, 13-6) and they got it. New Castle trailed, 13-10, after the first, but rallied for a 25-23 halftime advantage. The guests started to pull away in the third with a 7-0 run for a 35-29 buffer with 3:17 left in the frame. But, Ambridge responded with an 8-0 surge and carried a 39-37 lead into the fourth.
“The second half of section play is so difficult, especially in this league. There are so many good coaches. They all work and do their job. It was definitely a difficult game for both teams,” Blundo said. “It came down to who made a couple more plays. We made enough to play with the lead late and I think that was important.”
The Bridgers had a 43-41 edge with 6:04 to go when New Castle got a spark from Geno Stone. The sophomore scored on two straight drives to the basket to give the ’Canes a 45-43 lead with 3:43 to play. After an Ambridge free throw, Robert Natale provided the dagger when he drilled a 3-pointer for a 48-44 advantage with 2:35 left.
“I think we really came together at the end. We made some big-time shots at the end. Robert’s 3 was absolutely huge,” Fulena said. “They were switching up defenses and Geno’s ability to penetrate was good. Then, Robert knocked down the 3. They were just some big-time plays that helped us win the game.”
Marquel Hooker gave the guests a huge swing when he split a pair of free throws. He grabbed the rebound off his miss and laid the ball in for a 51-44 lead with 1:28 to go.
The ’Canes came up big on the defensive end in the fourth, too. The team switched to a box-and-one on Bridgers star Daylon Carter. He finished with 23 points, but had just four in the final frame.
“Ambridge is a really good team and they are really good at home. I thought we were really good defensively in the fourth quarter. Our guys off the ball were great,” Blundo said. “When we got a little bit of a lead and they wanted to go to Carter, we made it hard on them. I was really pleased with our effort. I thought we won this game with the two days leading up to it. I thought the preparation was really good.”
Marcus Hooker paced New Castle with 16 points. Marquel Hooker and Natale both added 13.