Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
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.”
Sheldon Zablotny, a 6-foot senior guard, paces Erie Cathedral Prep at 18.9 points a game. He’s second in rebounding at 5.2 and second in assists at 2.8.
“He’s an excellent player,” Blundo said of Zablotny. “He’s got a legitimate jump shot from 3; he’s really the go-to guy in terms of scoring.”
Zablotny, who is being recruited by Division II schools, led the Ramblers with 21 points in the win over Hampton. He’s just the 10th player in school history to score over 1,000 points. Last year, Zablotny connected on the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer to lift Erie Cathedral Prep past Pittsburgh Central Catholic in the second round of the state playoffs.
“Sheldon is a very good player with a lot of experience,” Majewski said. “We play the game as a team, though.”
Matt Harris, a 6-2 junior guard, is next for the Ramblers at 13.7 points a game. He adds 3.8 rebounds a game as well.
“Harris is a great spot-up shooter,” Blundo said. “He plays hard. If you give him an inch, he will drill it.”
Conor Colpoys, a 6-3 senior forward, chips in 11.4 points and a team-best 6.1 rebounds a game. He also hands out 2.4 assists.
“Colpoys is a really effective interior player,” Blundo said. “He’s really strong with great footwork and he appears to be their emotional leader.”
Chris Francis, a 6-0 senior guard, is Erie Cathedral Prep’s defensive specialist.
“He guards extremely well,” Blundo said. “When I look at them, I see an excellent team defensively.
The Ramblers toss in 70.9 points a game, while surrendering 50.6.
“They will look to push it and they will try to get an easy one,” Blundo said. “They have a variety of different sets. Whatever it is they do, they do it all well.
“Defensively, they’re mostly a halfcourt man-to-man team. They put good ball pressure on and they’re really good in the gaps. They’re just an excellent basketball team.”
LIGHTING IT UP
Shawn Anderson, a 6-3 senior guard/forward and Navy recruit, engineers New Castle’s offensive attack. Anderson tosses in a team-high 20.3 points a game. He stands second in the county in scoring behind Neshannock’s Ernie Burkes (21.1 ppg.).
Anderson also averages 8.1 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.3 steals a game.
“Shawn is a very good player,” Majewski said. “He’s a good finisher around the basket and he takes it to the basket hard.
“He has a very good inside-outside game and he can do it all. He can finish around the rim and he can knock down jump shots. Anderson gets to the basket extremely well.”
Anderson led the ’Canes with 17 points in the second-round win over North Allegheny, 15 of those points came in the second half.
“The focus of halftime was to get him touches where he could be effective,” Blundo said of Anderson. “His touches in the first half were in obscure places.
“We got him the ball there in the second half and he did the rest. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a great first half, it was Shawn understanding it’s a 32-minute game just like the rest of the team and playing hard for 32 minutes.”
Malik Hooker, a 6-2 junior guard/forward, follows Anderson at 16.4 markers, 7.7 boards, 2.9 steals and 2.8 assists a matchup.
“Malik goes hard to the basket and he creates a lot of opportunities for his teammates,” Majewski said. “He’s good at kicking it out and he’s a relentless rebounder.”
Anthony Richards, a 5-9 junior guard, registers 9.8 points a game, while draining a county-best 75 3-pointers. Brandon Domenick, a 5-9 senior point guard and Gannon recruit, chips in nine markers a matchup to go with 63 3-pointers.
“Domenick is a great ballhandler,” Majewski said. “He sees the floor well and he makes great decisions. He’s got tremendous range from the outside and he’s very good at creating for his teammates.
“Richards is a great shooter and he has great range. He’s a very good catch and release guy; he gets shots off with guys in his face.”
The ’Canes collect 78.3 points a game and give up 51.9.
“It’s 32 minutes of complete pressure on both ends,” Majewski said of New Castle’s style of play. “They attack you on offense and attack and pressure you on defense; they’re very good at it, too.
“I don’t think there are many teams that play like they do. We’ve played against that style, but not for 32 minutes.”
The winner moves on to the Final Four to meet the survivor of the Harrisburg-Lower Merion matchup Tuesday at a time and site to be determined.
(In today’s print edition: Have your ticket for tomorrow’s game yet? If not, you’re probably out of luck.)