NEW CASTLE —
“You were built for this moment.”
Those were the words of New Castle High basketball coach Ralph Blundo as his team was ready to take the floor against Hampton for the WPIAL Class AAAA title at the A.J. Palumbo Center on the campus of Duquesne University on Saturday night.
“You don’t need to do anything differently. You don’t need to take your game to another level. Just do what you always do. Play Red Hurricane basketball and that will be enough,” said the coach, who was striving for his third consecutive WPIAL championship and 78th consecutive WPIAL victory.
In the end, he was right. The ’Canes didn’t need to do anything differently and the mission was accomplished with a 55-49 victory over Hampton.
Even though the movie ended the way it always does with a New Castle victory, this script was written a little differently and some of the players were in different roles.
The literal interpretation is an attack conducted with great speed and force.
It should, because it is the way the ’Canes often begin their games. Fast starts that usually devastate the opponent.
Not this time.
Instead, it was Hampton, who blitzkrieged New Castle with a 13-2 advantage out of the gate. It was the first and only time the ’Canes got a taste of their own medicine.
How would they handle it? Would they crumble in their biggest game of the year?
Blundo called a timeout. During the timeout, nobody lost his composure. Coach made a few adjustments. He told Drew Allen, who had struggled up to that point, to enter the ball to the elbow instead of the wing to start the offense against Hampton’s zone.
More importantly, the players did not exhibit any panic. They went back onto the floor and executed the plan to perfection. The result was a 14-4 finish to the quarter by the ’Canes.
It’s Blundo’s goal to end each quarter with a bucket. Oftentimes, he will play for the last shot in the period by holding the ball to make sure the ’Canes don’t lose the momentum going into the next stanza.
At the end of the first quarter, Levar Ware put back a missed 3-point attempt to cut the Hampton lead to 17-16. As the shot went in, coach Blundo pumped his fist (almost hitting me in the face), while the ’Canes sprinted to the bench and the crowed went into full explosion.
New Castle has notched 26 wins this year, but its most important win may have occurred last May before the WPIAL, when the steering committee ruled that Ware would be eligible to play this season.
Ware had spent some time at a West Virginia school as a ninth-grader and a question arose about the eight-semester eligibility rule. Even though Ware is not a starter, all the coaches would agree that the ’Canes would not have enjoyed this unprecedented success without the contributions of the big man in the middle. His bucket at the end of the first quarter was huge.
If there is one play that might have determined the fate of this game, it was the basket scored by Anthony Richards with one second left in the first half.
The ’Canes led 29-26. They were taking the ball out of bounds under their own basket. Hampton scouted New Castle well and it knew in this situation the ’Canes liked to lob the ball up to Malik Hooker in the paint, so he could tip it in the basket.
Richards is a basketball player through and through. He knows the game. He sees the court through the eyes of a player, who watched his two brothers, Chris and David, who both played at New Castle, and his father, David, an ex-player and now an assistant coach.
When he saw the Talbots’ defense was face-guarding Malik, he knew the lob would not work.
So what did he do?
He banked the ball off of the back of the Hampton defender, in essence passing the ball to himself, which he promptly shot and scored.
Without breaking stride, he raced off of the court into the locker room followed by his teammates.
Explosion No. 2 from the New Castle faithful. New Castle 31, Hampton 26.
Even though Richards was held to seven points for the game, his play at the end of the half was a back-breaker for the Talbots.