NEW CASTLE —
FROM PONY TO HORSE
As the season progresses, there always is one unexpected player, who steps up and provides quality minutes for his team.
Even though he did not score in the championship game, the play of junior guard Robert “Pony” Natale cannot be overlooked. He defended — he rebounded and did not turn the ball over as the championship dogfight continued one possession at a time.
His points against Latrobe in the first round of the playoffs and his two 3-pointers against Bethel Park were as big as any points scored in the ’Canes’ run to a championship.
His father, Bob Natale, is affectionately known as “Horse.”
There is no game or shot too big for Jake McPhatter. With his father, Jake Sr., lying in a hospital bed in Youngstown, Ohio, after undergoing surgery following a serious automobile accident, Jake Jr. missed his first three shots of the game.
That type of start would have damaged most players’ confidence. But with New Castle’s leading scorers Hooker and Richards struggling to score, somebody needed to pick up the slack.
His confidence never shaken, McPhatter proceeded to nail his next three shots — two huge 3-pointers and a reverse layup to start the second half. It was vintage McPhatter.
SUPERMAN FORGOT HIS CAPE
To some people, Hooker is known as Superman. The fictional character, who was “faster than a speeding bullet; who was more powerful than a locomotive; and who could leap tall buildings in a single bound.”
But for the first time this year, Superman did not bring his cape to the game. Hooker, who was averaging 23.4 points a game coming in, scored a season-low six points.
When some superstars don’t get their points, they pout and sulk. Not Hooker, who will be matriculating at Ohio State University in the fall.
He elevated the other facets of his game. He defended like a mad dog guarding his last piece of meat. He grabbed double-digit rebounds and his assists produced many of the 18 points scored by Stew Allen.
No New Castle game is complete without a signature dunk by Hooker.
Who can forget the takeoff from the foul line dunk against Lower Marion last year that made SportsCenter? How about the alley-oop slam against Bethel Park that also received ESPN acclaim? What about the tomahawk facial he gave to the poor kid from Kiski?
When Hooker slammed on a breakaway to give New Castle a seven-point lead with three minutes left in the game, the crowd exploded for the third time.
This time the explosion was the death knell for Hampton.
The Allen boys, Stew and Drew, are twin brothers.
All the sports writers before the game were talking about a set of twins that would lead their team to victory.
The writers were right.
A set of twins did lead their team to the championship, but the writers had the wrong twins.
The Luther twins — Ryan with 21 points and Collin — played great games and battled like warriors, but the Allen boys were a little better and a little tougher.
Final score: Allen twins 32 points, Luther twins 26 points. Stew and Drew were marvelous.
Stew scored eight points in the first quarter when the ’Canes were struggling. He battled 6-foot-8 Ryan Luther, a University of Pittsburgh recruit, all night for position on the low block. The only thing he didn’t accomplish during the championship game was his dunk attempt at the buzzer and for that, he continues to be ribbed by his teammates. Stew finished with 18 huge points to lead the ’Canes in scoring.
After a rough start, Drew steered the New Castle offense from his point-guard position. The ’Canes only had eight turnovers for the game due in large part to Drew’s steady hand.
Drew finished the game with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field and two gigantic 3-pointers.
With New Castle, it is always a team effort. They do everything together.
In its championship effort Saturday, the team was the same as always. However, some of the players were in different roles.
Hampton learned even if you flip the script, the ending is still the same — New Castle, WPIAL champs for the third year in a row.
(Larry Kelly, a partner in the law firm of Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George, is an assistant basketball coach at New Castle).