Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
The road to a repeat is set to begin for the New Castle High boys basketball team.
The Red Hurricane claimed the WPIAL Class AAA championship last season, the eighth district title in program history.
New Castle climbed to Class AAAA this year and enters the playoffs in the exact manner it did last year — unbeaten through 22 games. In fact, the ’Canes are the only unbeaten boys squad in the district regardless of classification.
The ’Canes, ranked No. 1 in the WPIAL in Class AAAA by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and No. 5 in the state by the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, begin their bid for a repeat at 8 p.m. today at North Allegheny against Latrobe.
“They know they have a target on their back and we will use it to our advantage,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said of his team. “The guys have a confidence about them. They’ve walked this road before and it will be good for us.”
LATROBE’S NEAR MISS
The 16th-seeded Wildcats (12-10) come in as the fourth-place team out of Section 1. However, Latrobe was battling for a section championship and a much higher seed going into the final week of league play before dropping both games that week to Penn-Trafford and Hempfield.
“They’re a pretty diverse team,” Blundo said of Latrobe. “They do different things offensively that can cause you problems.
“They have strong guard play, they’re a man-to-man team and they will mix it up.”
Said Wildcats coach Brad Wetzel, “I think the reaction (to the seed) took a revolutionary process. There was a hope it was anyone but New Castle. Which was what a lot of people were thinking. Then we got to work and noticed what a great opportunity it is and what a blessing it is to be in the playoffs.”
A FAMILIAR LOOK
Latrobe brings a similar feel to one of New Castle’s Section 3 rivals Hampton. The Wildcats have size and can get in the passing lanes like the Talbots, who lost by just four points to the ’Canes (54-50) late in the regular season.
Mike Soforic, a 6-foot-6 senior forward, leads Latrobe at 14 points a game.
“Soforic can handle the ball and he can get to the cup,” Blundo said. “He can do a variety of different things. He won’t just sit on the perimeter and shoot 3s. He’ll be a focus of our game plan.”
Will Wears, a 6-3 senior forward, pulls down a team-high 10 rebounds a contest for the Wildcats.
Matt Cullen, a 6-0 sophomore point guard, hands out a team-best four assists a game. He suffered a concussion late in the Penn-Trafford loss Feb. 5th and missed the regular season finale against Hempfield. His status is questionable for tonight’s game.
Wetzel said he would likely start Chad Kissel in Cullen’s place if Cullen is unable to go.
Latrobe is averaging 63.5 points a game and giving up 57.5.
“They look to play basketball,” Blundo said of the Wildcats. “If they get an opportunity to run, they will. I would think controlling the tempo would be important for them against us.
“They’re very sound defensively. They’re in the right places and they guard the ball real well. I realize they are the 16 seed. But 16 seeds have won the WPIAL title before. It can be done; we’re not taking them lightly.”
SCOUTING THE ’CANES
Shawn Anderson, a 6-3 senior guard/forward and Navy recruit, leads the team in scoring at 20 points a game. He’s second only in the county in that category to Neshannock’s Ernie Burkes (21.1 ppg.).
Anderson is averaging 8.4 rebounds, three assists and 2.6 steals a game.
“If he’s any better than he looks on film, then he’s one of the finer players in the state,” Wetzel said. “He carries his frame well and he gets to the basket well; he’s quite a talent.”
Malik Hooker, a 6-2 junior guard/forward, is next at 17.3 points, eight rebounds, three steals and 2.5 assists a contest.
“Hooker is an impressive player,” Wetzel said. “He can get to the basket and he finishes well. He looks like he’s this team’s version of a forward.”
Brandon Domenick, a 5-9 senior point guard and Gannon recruit, tosses in 9.1 markers a matchup along with 49 3-pointers. Anthony Richards, a 5-9 junior guard, also nets 9.1 points a game to go with a county-best 53 3-pointers.
“Every coach once in a lifetime gets a guard like this,” Wetzel said of Domenick. “On film, he’s the glue out there for them. He makes it all happen for them.
“I didn’t see a weakness with them. There’s nothing that’s fancy with New Castle. No fancy style. No wow factor. From the moment it gets tipped up, they’ll be in your shirt. You have to live with it or succumb to it. Their ability to apply pressure as long as they do is impressive.”
The ’Canes rank second in the WPIAL in scoring offense at 79.8 points a game. Vincentian Academy (83.8 in Class A) leads the district. New Castle is surrendering 51.8 points a game.
“We’re going to have to do something that nobody has been able to do and that’s handle their pressure,” Wetzel said. “I honestly believe they force you into mistakes.
“If we can pass up questionable shots for excellent shots we’ll be fine. We can’t jump at the chance for a shot. We’ll be at our best if we show mental discipline and we’ll have to fight for things at both ends.”
This will be the first meeting between the teams since a 75-63 ’Canes win in the championship of the New Castle Tipoff Tournament in the 2004-2005 season.
The victor moves on to meet the winner of the Kiski-Gateway game Saturday at a time and site to be determined. The ninth-seeded Gators are the two-time defending WPIAL Class AAAA champions.
(To check out a photo gallery and stories from last night’s WPIAL playoff action, CLICK HERE.)