Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
The New Castle High boys basketball team is in familiar territory — against a familiar team.
New Castle knocked off that team — North Allegheny — twice during the WPIAL Section 3-AAAA regular season. At 6 p.m. tomorrow at Slippery Rock University, New Castle will have an opportunity to complete the hat trick when the teams battle in the second round of the PIAA playoffs.
The ’Canes (27-0) defeated the Tigers 88-43 on the road and 74-58 at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House. It’s a battle of the two highest-scoring teams in the WPIAL in Class AAAA. New Castle leads the district in offensive average per game at 79.1 and North Allegheny (22-4) is next at 71.3.
“People think they’re just a 3-point shooting team,” ’Canes coach Ralph Blundo said. “They scored 84 points against State College (on Saturday) making just five total 3s.
“They’ll get to the rim and finish, and they guard well. They’ve had a really good year.”
Last year, New Castle faced Montour in the second round, a rematch from a regular season matchup. The Spartans posted a 50-43 decision that night.
New Castle won its PIAA playoff opener Saturday with a 68-48 triumph over Gateway, while the Tigers advanced with an 84-76 decision over the Little Lions.
At stake is a chance at more history for New Castle, with a shot to set the program's mark for consecutive victories. The mark stands at 27, set in the 2001-2002 season and equaled last year before the ’Canes fell in the second round of the state playoffs to Montour. The ’Canes made history in the WPIAL championship game March 2. They won their second consecutive district championship and became the first program in WPIAL history, regardless of classification, to claim consecutive crowns in different classifications. And they did it by rolling through the season undefeated to that point.
“I really think that stuff is for another day,” Blundo said of the streak. “That’s for the postseason. We’re not playing the game to break single-season records that were made by previous teams.
“The last reason we want to win this game is because it would be our 28th win. It’s very low on our list. The guys have no idea about it, nor do they care. Those are all things where you reflect on it after the season.”
North Allegheny coach Dave DeGregorio knows what his team is up against after facing New Castle twice in the regular season.
“They’re a really good basketball team,” said DeGregorio, who is in his ninth season as the coach. “They’ve got all five starters that can score. They’re very hard to guard. They defend really well and they get it going really well.
“New Castle rebounds it well, too. I’d like to say that they have a weakness, but I just don’t see one.”
Playing North Allegheny is like New Castle looking at itself in a mirror. The ’Canes have scored 80 points or more 14 times this season, compared to six times for North Allegheny.
“What makes them so dangerous is I believe they’re the best offensive team we’ve played all year,” Blundo said. “They can really get it going from the three-point line and with the dribble.
“They’ve had many games where they’ve had 13, 14 or 15 3s. Both teams like to use the dribble drive and we’re both good at it. They did it long before we did it. When you have guys that can do it with the dribble and the shot, that makes it a tough offense to guard.”
The first meeting between the teams, despite its hyped nature, was over before it started. Both teams came in 11-0, but the ’Canes built a 28-8 lead after the first quarter and 50-24 at the break in front of an overflow crowd on the Tigers’ home floor.
“We just clicked on all cylinders that night,” Blundo said. “We made some 3s early.”
Said DeGregorio of that first loss, “I don’t think that game is a motivational factor at all for us. They really let that game go right after it ended and moved on to the next game. New Castle got us that night; they popped us pretty good.”
State College built a 23-5 first-quarter lead Saturday before North Allegheny mounted a rally. DeGregorio recognizes the importance of not falling into a similar hole.
“I think the first four minutes are important,” he said. “(A slow start) is going to happen at times; it could go in your favor or against you.
“New Castle is a little bit harder to defend when they get ahead, though. When someone gets up on us like that, our guys will still play hard. We won’t get down.”
TIGERS ON THE PROWL
David Haus, a 6-foot-2 junior guard, scored 15 points in the game at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House. His brother, Adam, a 6-2 senior guard, netted 13 that night.
Adam recorded 15 markers against State College on Saturday and David chipped in with 10.
Adam averages points a game and David chips in eight markers and six rebounds. Elijah Zeise, a 6-3 junior guard/forward, shares the team lead in rebounding with David at six.
“Both Haus brothers are very good players,” Blundo said. “Both can shoot it and both do a great job of finishing.”
Sean Hennigan, a 6-0 senior guard, tossed in a game-best 22 markers in the opening round of the state playoffs for North Allegheny. Hennigan was limited to just seven points on New Castle’s home court.
Hennigan leads the team in scoring at 12 points a game.
“Hennigan shoots it well,” Blundo said. “He played really well against State College.
“Those guys can shoot it and the guys that can take you off the dribble are the hardest to guard. We’ll have to keep Hennigan in front of us.”
Joe Mancini, a 5-10 junior guard, entered the WPIAL playoffs with a team-high 60 made 3-pointers. Mancini averages 10 markers a game.
“Mancini is more of a spot-up guy; he can shoot it,” Blundo said.
Shawn Anderson, a 6-3 senior guard/forward and Navy recruit, directs New Castle’s offense. Anderson nets a team-best 20.4 points a game. He ranks second in the county in scoring behind Neshannock’s Ernie Burkes (21.1 ppg.).
Anderson also averages 8.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.4 steals a game.
“Anderson does everything so well,” DeGregorio said. “He’s a tough guard and he’ll take you off the bounce.
“He can shoot the 3. You have to respect everything he does. You can’t lay off him at all because he’s such a good player. He rebounds very well and he’s a leader for them.”
Malik Hooker, a 6-2 junior guard/forward, backs up Anderson’s effort at 16.7 points, 7.9 boards, three steals and 2.7 assists a matchup. Hooker tossed in 19 markers in the 24-point ’Canes home win over the Tigers.
“Hooker is a good player,” DeGregorio said. “He does a great job at getting to the basket and he takes high percentage shots.
“New Castle can hurt you in so many ways; they’re a difficult guard. Hooker will step out and shoot or put it on the floor. He’s a good athlete, a strong kid and he defends well.”
Anthony Richards, a 5-9 junior guard, tallies 9.7 points a contest, while bucketing a county-best 72 3-pointers. Brandon Domenick, a 5-9 senior point guard and Gannon recruit, contributes 8.8 markers a tilt to go with 59 3-pointers.
Domenick owns the program’s all-time mark for 3-pointers made with 197. Richards is right on his heels with 194 career trifectas, 72 each of the last two years, and 50 as a freshman.
Richards has 19 field goals in the postseason, all coming from behind the arc.
“Domenick runs the show and he can score from the point,” DeGregorio said. “You have to respect his shot, but he creates shots for other people, too.
“You have to get out on the three-point shooter, no matter who it is.”
The winner advances to the quarterfinals — the Elite Eight — and will take on the survivor of the Hampton-Erie Cathedral Prep contest Saturday.