New Castle News

March 26, 2014

Players of the Week: The New Castle High basketball team

Joe Sager
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — It’s been a whirlwind couple of days for the New Castle High boys basketball team.

 But that doesn’t bother a squad named the Red Hurricane.

 New Castle’s players haven’t had much time to settle in after they returned home from Hershey on Sunday following Saturday’s PIAA Class AAAA championship win over La Salle College High.

 The performance earned the entire squad Lawrence County Athletes of the Week honors, an award sponsored by Washington Centre Physical Therapy and selected by the New Castle News sports staff.

“I am not sure how long it’s going to take for it to really set in and to really get a grasp of the accomplishment,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “I think it’s one thing to win a state title and it’s another thing to do it in the manner by which these players have done it. It’s tough to comprehend, even for me and I am 41 years old. I can’t imagine what it’s like for my guys. Guys all wore their medals to school (Monday). They are just proud. They just know this is something that’s not easy to do.”

 Following the 52-39 win over the Explorers to cap a perfect 31-0 season, the squad celebrated on the court, greeted family and talked to reporters before the players went back to the lockerroom one last time as a team.

 “I really wanted to just address them regarding their accomplishment and not the fact that it was the last time I was addressing them in the lockerroom,” Blundo said. “That’s probably for another time.”

 After that, there was more celebrating.

 “We got on the bus and they danced and celebrated the whole way back to the hotel,” Blundo said. “Once we got back, we gave them 15 minutes to shower and we jumped back on the bus and there was a celebration set up at the Hershey Lodge, which, ironically, was where the La Salle team was staying. It just happened to be the biggest area to celebrate and they were fine with that. We didn’t actually see any of them.

 “When we got there, the people were lined up inside of the lodge and just cheering and hugging and congratulating my guys. I just wanted to sit back and take it all in and observe the happiness, not just from my players, but the entire community. There had to be 1,500 to 2,000 people there.”

 The team had its championship hardware on display at the event.

 “One of the seniors carried in the trophy and placed it on a table inside the lodge. Many of the fans took that opportunity to take a picture with the trophy or a picture with one of the players and the trophy,” Blundo said. “It was just a joyous time, a time to celebrate something that was special to a whole lot of people well beyond the team — we’re talking alumni and people who have moved out of town or people who just went to New Castle 30, 40 or 50 years ago that were back in town. It was like they never left.”

 The gathering lasted into the morning.

 “We were probably there until 2 or 3 a.m.,” Blundo said. “You had young kids running around; it was a family atmosphere just like you’d expect from a typical family party in New Castle with people enjoying each other’s company, only there were thousands of them. It was remarkable.”

 The team embarked on its return trip Sunday morning and was greeted by another mob of fans upon its arrival.

 “When we got on the bus in the morning, the kids were tired and they rested until we stopped to eat a couple hours into the trip,” Blundo said. “We arrived home about 4:30 p.m. and I don’t know how many people were there, but it was a lot. It was emotional and it was great to see the togetherness of our community. I’ve said it a million times, but I think this team is a reflection of our community and vice versa.”

 The ’Canes are not resting, though. They’re trying to capitalize on the momentum generated by their championship run.

 “Standardized testing starts this week in the schools, so we’re using this opportunity for our kids to go speak to the younger kids all this week. We want to address to the kids how hard work can create success,” Blundo said. “We want to tell them that school, all year, those were their practices and now these tests are game day for them; this is their Hershey. We’re trying to mirror what we’ve done on the court and relate it to academics.”

 That’s not all.

 “There’s a parade on Thursday,” Blundo said. “A couple of my seniors are heading over to Barnes & Noble for the reading festival to read to some of the kids. They’re going to be really busy all week, but there are all kinds of positives that can come out of the team’s success. We want it to be a springboard for other successes in the community.

 “The guys understand there is a responsibility that comes with their success and they can influence other people because of their experiences, the work and the things they’ve been through to achieve that success. That’s really the focus right now, especially while they can really be influential to some of the other students in our school district.”

 The team received more recognition this week when MaxPreps put New Castle No. 24 in its Xcellent 25 national basketball rankings.

 “Also we got word from MaxPreps that they picked us as one of the top 10 teams of the year,” Blundo said. “Each year, they acknowledge 10 teams out of 20,000. The criteria are, you have to be in the Top 25 and you have to have won a state championship. We were one of those 10 teams and MaxPreps will come here and there will be a ceremony for that trophy presentation.

 “We met with the people for our commemorative rings, too, and we’re excited about hanging the first state banner ever in our gym,” he continued. “All of that stuff is fun. It comes with winning. We do all that together.”

 Blundo and his assistants hope to get some time to decompress with their spouses on an upcoming weekend trip.  

 “We’re planning to get our wives away for a few days because they certainly deserve it. They’re all raising kids by themselves while we’ve been preparing for this run,” he said. “It’ll be an opportunity for us to wind down, celebrate a little bit and, at the same time, get our wives the peace that they deserve from running the families alone for the last few months.”

 Likewise, Blundo is appreciative of the help and the team received from its support staff.

 “When you’re involved in a state championship run and play in a state championship game, there are so many ancillary things that have to take place. The planning and preparation is unreal,” he said. “Mr. (Rich) Litrenta, Mr. (John) Sarandrea and Joe Anderson were doing things behind the scene that I didn’t know were going on, allowing my staff and me to focus on the game and the game only. They are such a big part of the team as well. Everything went perfectly, from travel, meals, media obligations — all of that stuff was seamless and unbeknownst to me in many ways because that’s how they wanted it and I am so appreciative of that.”