NEW CASTLE —
The New Castle High boys basketball team breezed through the competition in most of its first 27 games this year.
Now the Red Hurricane knows it can win in the face of adversity as well.
New Castle (28-0) rebounded from a four-point halftime deficit to post a 57-46 win over WPIAL Section 3 rival North Allegheny in the second round of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs on Wednesday, the third win of the year over the Tigers. That verdict secured a spot in the Elite Eight of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs and a date with Erie Cathedral Prep (23-2).
Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. tomorrow at Edinboro University’s McComb Fieldhouse.
“That was their understanding, that it’s a 32-minute game,” ’Canes coach Ralph Blundo said. “At any point in the game, it’s not when you win more possessions, it’s that you do win more possessions.
“When you have a senior-oriented team and great senior leadership, they don’t panic. It’s not easy to do, especially when your career is on the line; they knew there was no reason to panic.”
New Castle set a school record for consecutive wins with the verdict over the Tigers to run the count to 28 straight. Last year, Montour derailed New Castle in the second round of the PIAA Class AAA playoffs.
“It’s a lot of fun. There’s only eight of us left,” Blundo said. “We get to continue to work while most other schools are at home right now.
“It’s special for me because I’m still coaching these guys.”
The ’Canes are ranked No. 4 in the state by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg and the Ramblers are No. 5.
“New Castle is an exceptional basketball team and very unselfish,” said fifth-year Erie Cathedral Prep coach Mark Majewski. “They play as hard as anyone I’ve seen for 32 minutes.
“They rebound as a team and their pressure defense is relentless.”
This is the deepest New Castle has competed in the state playoffs since the 2001-2002 team reached the Final Four of Quad-A before falling to Uniontown.
Erie Cathedral Prep reached the Elite Eight with a 58-50 win over Hampton, preventing a fourth matchup between New Castle and the Talbots. It’s the second straight trip to the Elite Eight for the Ramblers, who lost in the Final Four last year to Lower Merion, 79-48.
“I definitely believe that it’s a very positive experience for us,” Majewski said of last year’s trip to the Final Four. “They understand how hard you have to work and how you have to do the little things to succeed.”
The Ramblers’ win ends a streak of four straight rematch games for the ’Canes.
“At some point, coaches are going to make adjustments and you just hope they don’t get you,” Blundo said of rematches. “We’re happy to play another team. We also know that this is an excellent basketball team.”
Erie Cathedral Prep won the District 10 championship this year, the program’s fourth title during the five-year run under Majewski.
“They’re a really good basketball team, from top to bottom,” Blundo said. “They’re the best team we’ve played this year.
“I know going in (to the season), most coaches felt that the top two teams in the west would be New Castle and Erie Cathedral Prep.”