NEW CASTLE —
Friday, Feb. 7, 2014.
The date will be remembered by a legion of fans throughout Lawrence County for years to come. Especially the followers of the New Castle High boys basketball team.
The Red Hurricane hosted Hampton in what turned out to be a classic at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House. One that went down as a 66-55 New Castle victory in front of an overflow crowd.
The game was announced as a sellout the night before. The varsity game wasn’t scheduled to start until 7:30 p.m., but that didn’t prevent fans from rolling in early.
There were more fans in the gym by the opening tip of the junior varsity game — 6 p.m. — than there are for a lot of varsity games at some schools. By the end of the third quarter of the JV contest, fans were stuck lining the aisles just to have a chance at witnessing the latest installment of the hottest rivalry in the WPIAL. New Castle has defeated the Talbots seven straight times, including each of the previous two seasons in the district title tilt.
When the varsity game tipped off around 7:40 p.m., both baselines were filled with fans and there wasn’t an empty seat to be found. Visits to the concession stand or the bathroom were a risky proposition for fear of missing out on the action or losing the valuable seat.
Four seniors — Malik Hooker, Anthony Richards, Drew Allen and Stew Allen — concluded section play in style and about 2,600 fortunate fans were there to witness it. The foursome put on a show and they were deserving of such a throng of fans.
New Castle supporters travel well, too. It doesn’t matter if it’s a home game, at Duquesne, at Williamsport or even in Philadelphia. They are on the scene cheering on their team.
Maybe the players and coaches already realize how special that home game was. But when the season finally does come to a close and they have time to reflect, there will be an even greater appreciation by everyone involved.
Not only was it quite a scene inside the Field House, but around town as well. Fans were braving the cold for long walks along city blocks to catch the action. It wasn’t rare to hear people say they walked from such landmarks as the Cathedral.
Sure, large crowds are nothing new to the history of New Castle basketball. The stories range from big gatherings in the 1980s, to the 1990s to witness the district three-peat. And now this year’s bunch might join that group from the 90s as a three-time champion. But there’s plenty of work still to be done and this group is well aware of that and isn’t thinking of anything more than tonight’s nonsection home battle against Central Valley.
New Castle coach Ralph Blundo, who is in his fourth season at the helm and a 1991 alum, has played in front of those large home crowds and coached in front of them, too. He recognizes what it means to the program.
“I haven’t seen every game (at the Field House), but that’s the biggest crowd I’ve ever seen,” Blundo said. “I just think from the kids’ perspective, it’s great to know that many people care. They’re rallying around a great group of guys.”
Years from now, there will be stories of how the fans flocked to the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House to watch the latest installment of the New Castle-Hampton series. They will talk about many things. The bucket Hooker made to put the game on ice inside a minute to play. They will comment on how well the team played over a four-year stretch, especially in section play.
And they will boast about the incredible scene of wall-to-wall people at the Field House that night. It was just the latest installment of what New Castle basketball is — a tradition that has no equal in western Pennsylvania.
(Ron Poniewasz Jr., better known as the Doctor of Style, is a sports writer for The News and covers the New Castle High basketball team.)
NEW CASTLE —
Friday, Feb. 7, 2014.
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