New Castle News

January 1, 2014

'Canes ninth WPIAL title top local sports story of 2013

Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — The 2013 calendar year was filled with success for Lawrence County sports teams and individuals as well.

The New Castle High boys basketball team continued its championship tradition.

The WPIAL semifinals were once again a familiar place for one of the county’s Class A football programs.

A county softball squad reached the state championship game for a second consecutive season. This time, though, the outcome was different.

An area native headed out west for a coaching job in the National Football League.

Many sports stories were considered, but only the best earned a spot on the Top 10 list.

The list was voted upon by the New Castle News sports staff.

Here is how the balloting concluded:

 

New Castle’s boys basketball team compiled another stellar season last year. The ’Canes rolled up a 29-1 overall mark, including 22-0 in the regular season. New Castle won the WPIAL Section 3-AAAA title with a 14-0 record.

The ’Canes earned the No. 1 seed in the district playoffs and breezed to the championship, the ninth in the program’s history. New Castle won its four district playoff games by an average of 23.2 points a game. The ’Canes defeated Hampton for the WPIAL Class AAAA crown, 68-53, on March 2. It was the second consecutive district championship for New Castle, which knocked off the Talbots in Class AAA the year before, 57-44. Hampton is coached by former Westminster College standout Joe Lafko.

The ’Canes advanced to the PIAA semifinals before being ousted by Lower Merion at Williamsport High School on March 19, 67-63.

Malik Hooker, now a senior, threw down a thunderous second-quarter dunk for New Castle in the loss. The dunk was shown on ESPN’s SportsCenter as the No. 5 Play of the Day.

Shawn Anderson, a Navy recruit, paced the ’Canes in scoring at 20.2 points a game. He was second in the county behind Neshannock’s Ernie Burkes (21.1 ppg.). Anderson was a first-team all-state honoree as well.

New Castle picked up where it left from last season. The ’Canes are 3-0 in Section 3-AAAA action and 8-0 overall. They are outscoring the opposition by an average of just under 30 points a game.

 

2. Neshannock’s softball team compiled a 21-3 record and the WPIAL Class A championship as well. The Lady Lancers won the Section 4 title with a 14-0 mark.

Neshannock cruised to the district title, outscoring its three opponents, 33-5. The Lady Lancers upended Carmichaels for the WPIAL Class A title, 10-4, on May 30. It was the first district championship in Neshannock’s 16-year program history.

The Lady Lancers beat Southern Huntingdon in the PIAA semifinals, 4-1 on June 11, to reach the state championship game for the second consecutive year.

But Williams Valley shut down Neshannock’s offensive attack, posting a 13-0 win to claim the state title on June 14. In 2012, Neshannock defeated Warrior Run for the state title, 4-3.

 

3. Hooker committed to Ohio State University on July 29 to continue his academic and football career.

Hooker received all-state recognition on the gridiron at defensive back. He registered 43 tackles, 11 pass breakups, six tackles for loss, three sacks and a trio of interceptions for the ’Canes (7-3).

Hooker led the county offensively in receptions (31) and receiving yards (608), while finishing in a tie for third with 78 points. He rolled up 414 rushing yards on 40 attempts as well.

New Castle made the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2009.

 

4. The Mohawk girls basketball team put together quite a ride last year as well. The Lady Warriors (19-8) lost in the WPIAL Class AA quarterfinals to Bishop Canevin, which won the district title, 56-44.

Mohawk, which won the Section 2 crown with an 11-1 mark, advanced to the PIAA playoffs courtesy of the Lady Crusaders’ district title win. The Lady Warriors won two state playoff games — 52-44 over Everett and 56-49 over North East — before falling to Seton-La Salle in the quarterfinals, 73-45.

Mohawk’s appearance in the Elite Eight was the first time since 1983.

The Lady Warriors haven’t skipped a beat this year, either. They are 2-1 in Section 2 play and 8-1 overall, losing only to section rival Neshannock, which is unbeaten in three league games and 10 contests overall.

 

5. Nick Rapone was hired to coach the defensive secondary of the Arizona Cardinals on Jan. 21.

Rapone, a former New Castle High football star and head coach, was reunited with Bruce Arians. Arians and Rapone met when both played for Virginia Tech in 1974 and Rapone went on to coach on Arians’ staff at Temple from 1983-88.

The Cardinals hired Arians at the end of the 2012 season. Arizona finished 10-6 allowing an average of 20.2 points a game. The Cardinals were in contention for a playoff berth in the season’s final week, but dropped a 23-20 decision to San Francisco on a last-second field goal by Phil Dawson.

Rapone previously served as the defensive coordinator at the University of Delaware, a member of the Football Championship Subdivision.

 

6. Neshannock sophomore Marissa Kirkwood turned in a wild ride through the district and state golf competition.

On Sept. 19, Kirkwood qualified for the WPIAL Individual Championships by shooting a six-over 79 at Ponderosa Golf Course in Hookstown. She finished tied for fourth with Central Valley’s Marissa Sudar, who also fired a 79. It marked the second year in a row Kirkwood qualified for the WPIAL Individual Championship.

Kirkwood shot an 85 on Sept. 30 at Hillcrest Country Club to finish eighth in the WPIAL Class AA Individual Championship. She advanced to the PIAA Western Regional Golf Tournament.

Kirkwood advanced to the state championship with a round of 38-41—79, finishing in a fourth-place tie with Villa’s Annie Ciachinni in the PIAA Western Regional Finals at Tom’s Run Golf Course in Blairsville.

The top-10 qualifiers from the event advanced to the PIAA Finals.

Kirkwood finished 12th at the state meet with a two-day total of 178. The event was held at York’s Heritage Hills Golf Resort and Conference Center. She shot a 48-43—91 on the first day. She turned things around on the second day, carding a 41-46—87, which included seven pars.

 

7. Neshannock’s  football team posted a 9-3 mark and a second consecutive berth in the WPIAL Class A semifinals.

The Lancers notched a 7-1 mark in the Big Seven Conference, falling only to Sto-Rox in a thriller, 34-31. That game was on a Thursday night in prime time on ROOT Sports Pittsburgh.

Neshannock lost just two other times — both coming against Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic. The Lancers dropped a 21-14 verdict on the road in the regular season, and a 27-14 decision in the district semifinals. Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic won the district and state titles en route to a 16-0 season.

 

8. Greg Schmitt’s contract as cross country coach at Laurel High wasn’t renewed this fall.

Schmitt, 32, led the Lady Spartans to back-to-back WPIAL Class A championships. Laurel finished fourth in the state this past fall.

Schmitt reported he will be among a handful of applicants to interview with school officials for the position. His interview is scheduled for tomorrow.

He has had 29 individuals qualify for the state meet — including a pair of WPIAL individual champions in Evan Miller and Emily Maxwell — and four state medalists.

The Spartans have earned five Tri-County crowns, two Midwestern Athletic Conference titles and a pair of section championships during his time as head coach.

 

9. Mark Mangino returned to Youngstown State University on March 1. Mangino, a New Castle native, was hired as an assistant head coach/tight ends coach at Youngstown State University.

Mangino, a 1987 YSU graduate, coached at Kansas from 2002-09.

Mangino was an assistant under former YSU coach Jim Tressel from 1985-87.

The Penguins cruised to an 8-1 record, but they lost their final three games to finish 8-4 and miss the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs by a game.

 

10. New Castle graduate Devin Taylor signed a professional basketball contract to play in Luxemborg on May 15. Taylor, who starred at Slippery Rock University, is playing for Etzella Ettelbruck.

Taylor, who is a starting forward, has played in 11 games. He is averaging 17.5 points a game (193 total points) and 10.6 rebounds a contest.

Etzella is 6-7.

(Email: rponiewasz@ncnewsonline.com)