NEW CASTLE —
This past basketball season was one the New Castle High boys team will never forget.
The Red Hurricane stormed to another WPIAL championship and won its first 29 games before Lower Merion ended the run with a 67-63 win in the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals.
Despite moving up to Class AAAA this season, New Castle, which won its first 27 games last year and captured the WPIAL Class AAA title, cruised through Section 3 unbeaten (14-0). In the last three years, the ’Canes have won their last 27 section encounters. Their last section loss came on Feb. 8, 2011, at Blackhawk.
New Castle’s Shawn Anderson, Malik Hooker and Brandon Domenick earned all-section first-team honors. Anderson was named the section’s MVP, while ’Canes coach Ralph Blundo earned the section’s coach of the year honors.
Anderson, a Naval Academy recruit, earned Post-Gazette MVP honors. He and Hooker were named to the paper’s Fab 5. Anderson, a first-team all-state selection, finished second in Lawrence County in scoring at 20.2 points per game. He averaged 71 percent (120 of 169) at the foul line and made 14 3-pointers. He averaged 3.3 assists per game and 7.9 rebounds per game.
“His level of consistency is amazing. You don’t see that often. I don’t recall him having a bad game at all. His point totals almost always were around his average no matter what,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “An MVP is just that. He scored. He rebounded. He was tremendous defensively. He always guarded the best interior player even though he was always undersized. He was so important to our team in terms of the way he led and the way he played the back of our press. That’s where the quarterback is. He was moving people around and putting people in the right places.
“I believe that the best years for all of my guys are ahead of them. What you’re seeing right now are individual awards that are the byproduct of a great team. When you win and win at the level we won, individual awards follow.”
Hooker, a junior, averaged 16.7 points per game. He added 1.3 blocks, 2.9 steals, 2.8 assists and 7.8 rebounds per game. He finished with 20 3-pointers. An athletic forward, one of his dunks against Lower Merion made SportsCenter’s top plays of the night.
“He just kept growing as a player and got stronger and more athletic of a player as he went on. He was as good as any player on the floor on any night and the best player on the floor many nights. I really see great things for him,” Blundo said. “He challenges himself in so many ways, including in the classroom. He has grown as a young man and an athlete. He has offers from Pitt, YSU and Buffalo, all for football. Penn State has been in to see him, too. It’s been quite a month for Malik.”
Hooker, who emerged as a top wide receiver recruit in football, should gain plenty of interest for his basketball skills as well.
“In time, we’ll figure it out. He really has an upside in football and he’s done so well in basketball, too. He loves them both,” Blundo said. “In the meantime, it’s important for him to work hard and enjoy what he’s doing and all those things will fall into place for him.”
Domenick, a senior point guard, averaged 9.1 points per game. He added 6.3 assists and 1.1 steals per game. The Gannon University recruit finished with 69 3-pointers. He wrapped up his career as New Castle’s all-time leading 3-point shooter with 207 treys.
“I guess unless you sit where I sit, it’s hard to understand how comfortable he made me as a coach,” Blundo said. “What a luxury that was for me to have a guy like Brandon. He is so skilled with his ability to handle pressure. I never had to worry about some of the things some coaches had to worry about it. He understood our system so well. He shot it so well, in particular in the biggest games. He is really the guy who made us go.”
Blundo earned section coach of the year honors for the third-straight season. He guided the team to 29-straight wins, which is a program record for victories in a season. The ’Canes won their second-straight WPIAL title and ninth in program history. New Castle set WPIAL firsts for
going undefeated in two-straight seasons in winning the district title as well as becoming the first school to win back-to-back WPIAL championships in different classifications. Overall, his coaching record is a sparkling 102-12. He is 76-10 in three years leading the ’Canes. He went 26-2 in one year (1998-99) guiding George Junior Republic in Grove City.
“I don’t understand why it’s not coaching staff of the year award. Every head coach knows they don’t do it alone. It’s a collective effort by a lot of people working really, really hard. I am fortunate to have the staff and players I have had. The combination of all of it makes us successful,” he said. “They are very talented staff. They all bring something different to the table. We’ve never had an argument in three years. I think that feeds down to the kids. But, we’ve had such good players, too.”
New Castle’s entire starting five received all-section honors. Senior forward Antonio Rudolph averaged 7.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.4 assists per game despite playing on an injured ankle most of the season. Junior guard Anthony Richards checked in at 9.7 points, 3.7 assists and 2.3 steals per game. His 81 3-pointers ranked first in Lawrence County and he’s right behind Domenick for the program 3-point lead with 203.
“Every now and then, if you are fortunate, you get a group where it’s just right. Everything was right – the chemistry, toughness and skill level. I felt like we did all the things we wanted to do and did them the right way,” Blundo said. “In the end, we played team that had to beat us. We didn’t give anything away. We left the season with no regrets and a lifetime of memories.”
Section 3-AAAA All-Stars
Shawn Anderson, New Castle, Sr.
Malik Hooker, New Castle, Jr.
Brandon Domenick, New Castle, Sr.
Ryan Luther, Hampton, Jr.
Easton Bazzoli, Seneca Valley, Sr.
Geno Thorpe, Shaler, Sr.
Anthony Richards, New Castle, Jr.
Antonio Rudolph, New Castle, Sr.
Collin Luther, Hampton, Jr.
Sean Hennigan, North Allegheny, Sr.
R. J. McCauley, Seneca Valley, Sr.
MVP: Shawn Anderson, New Castle
Coach of the Year: Ralph Blundo, New Castle