New Castle boys cruise to WPIAL championship game
New Castle (61) Vs. Central Valley (33)
Mar 01, 2017
By Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
AMBRIDGE — Next stop for the New Castle High boys basketball team and the squad’s legion of fans: The Petersen Events Center.
The Red Hurricane fed off a strong defensive effort Wednesday night to clinch a berth in the WPIAL Class 4A championship game.
New Castle forced 22 Central Valley turnovers, 16 in the first half, en route to a 61-33 WPIAL Class 4A semifinal win at Ambridge High School.
It’s the fourth trip to the district championship game during coach Ralph Blundo’s seven-year tenure. The ‘Canes have won all three of their previous trips to the tilt in that span.
“When you coach and you’ve had some success like we’ve had, one of the things that happens is you start to want that for all your guys,” Blundo said. “You want them to have that experience and that feeling.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s part of what drives us to get better. I’m happy they’re going to get this experience. It feels good to see kids happy and see kids see the fruits of their labor.”
Top-seeded New Castle (22-2) is appearing in its first WPIAL championship game since 2014.
The ‘Canes, ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class 4A by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, will oppose Quaker Valley (22-2) at 1 p.m. Saturday at the University of Pittsburgh’s Petersen Events Center. The second-seeded Quakers advanced with a 68-50 decision over Beaver Falls.
“It’s a great feeling. I don’t think anything is better than this,” New Castle senior guard/forward Geno Stone said.
“We’ve been working hard in practice and keeping our eye on the prize. We were so focused on this and we were ready to play,” junior ‘Canes forward Marcus Hooker said. “It’s a great feeling. We wanted it so bad.”
Stone and Hooker are just two of four players on this year’s team that saw steady playing time last year. That squad had their district championship hopes dashed by Highlands in the semifinals, 79-76 in overtime.
All four semifinalists this season compete in Section 2. New Castle and Quaker Valley split the season series, with each team winning at home.
“We thought this would happen and it did,” Blundo said of Section 2 dominating the semifinals. “Now it’s down to us and Quaker Valley. We’re just excited and it’s going to be a great environment for both teams.”
New Castle came in with two wins over section Central Valley (14-10) in the regular season — 63-49 and 63-39. However, the Warriors came out strong and held a 7-0 lead 2:22 into the contest.
“They were obviously prepared and ready to go,” Blundo said of Central Valley. “They played really well early and obviously better than us. But we were able to take the punch and punch back and get a lead.”
The ‘Canes quickly regrouped and closed to within 11-10 after one period.
“They were just breaking our press and beating us down the floor, basically,” Stone said. “After we settled in and got into our offense and defense, we started to play better.”
Stone got going in the second quarter, scoring 16 of his game-high 22 points. His production helped New Castle forge a 35-15 buffer at the break.
“Once we kind of figured out what they were doing defensively, we were able to find some spots where we could get some good looks and then Geno knocked those shots down,” Blundo said.
The ‘Canes forced the Warriors into 16 first-half turnovers, including 10 in the second quarter.
“I think we were a little bit down, maybe we weren’t mentally prepared for it,” Hooker said. “Once we got settled in and started running our sets things started to take off for us.”
New Castle put the game away in the second half, holding Central Valley scoreless for seven minutes during a stretch that spanned the third and fourth quarters. The ‘Canes pushed the lead to 45-19 after three periods and played their reserves for the latter half of the final frame.
Hooker followed Stone’s effort with 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds. He handed out three assists as well.
Stone, who was 7 of 13 from the field, notched nine steals with five assists. Gino DeMonaco and Garrett Farah tossed in eight points apiece for the winners.
Michael Simmons netted 10 points for the Warriors, who have lost 12 straight games against the ‘Canes, including all three this season.
“I just think we played a little bit better than them tonight,” Blundo said. I have so much respect for Brandon Ambrose and his staff. I know how hard they work. He’s one of my closest friends in coaching. They were prepared, we just played better and sometimes that happens.”