Ron Poniewasz Jr.
New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
One postseason journey ended successfully for the New Castle High boys basketball team on Saturday.
A second — and even bigger one — is about to begin for the Red Hurricane.
At 3 p.m. tomorrow, New Castle will embark on a journey toward a PIAA Class AAAA championship against Gateway at North Allegheny High School. The ’Canes have never won a state championship in boys basketball.
Last week, New Castle won its second straight WPIAL championship, capturing gold in Class AAAA. Last year, the ’Canes won the Class AAA title. New Castle became the first WPIAL program to win consecutive basketball championships competing in different classifications as well as going undefeated en route to the crown two years in a row.
“I gave them two days off after the championship game,” ’Canes coach Ralph Blundo said. “We had a good practice on Tuesday and a solid scrimmage against West Middlesex on Wednesday.
“The guys know what’s at stake and how to address it. I don’t think I need to tell them what’s in front of us. Their work ethic has been great. The opportunity they have is once in a lifetime. We’ll be prepared. We’ll work hard and do the best we can.”
New Castle has strung together consecutive 26-0 campaigns which spanned the regular season through the WPIAL championship game each of the past two seasons. The ’Canes finished 27-1 last season.
“We haven’t spoke about the championship in three days. Everything we do is geared for preparing for Gateway at this point.”
New Castle knocked off the Gators (16-6), 87-55, on Feb. 23 at Ambridge in the WPIAL quarterfinals. The win ended Gateway’s two-year WPIAL reign as Class AAAA champions.
“They’re a great team,” said Gators coach Mitch Adams, who is in his eighth season at the helm. “Their record indicates it.
“It’s not very easy to win a title, let alone go undefeated. It’s a tribute to the program Ralph has built and to the kids. For us, it’s an opportunity to win a state playoff game.”
This is the Gators’ fourth straight trip to the state playoffs.
Adams feels the ’Canes enter the rematch with a decided advantage.
“They’re the WPIAL champions,” Adams said. “I knew the last two years, because we won the WPIAL title, that the team you beat in the quarterfinals, you’ll play them again in the state playoffs.
“There’s no question it’s a whole new season now. We have expectations here. I really think my guys are hungry after they beat us. There hasn’t been too many Quad-A teams in the state playoffs four years in a row.”
Deon Cottrell-Baker, a 6-foot-5 senior guard/forward, leads Gateway in scoring at 12.9 points a game. A reserve, Cottrell-Baker was shut down in the quarterfinals against New Castle, netting just six points.
“He’s a big, strong, athletic kid,” Blundo said. “He’s a really good basketball player; he’s a load for us. We have to keep him off the glass.”
Jordan Landfair, a 6-3 senior lefthanded guard, tossed in a team-high 16 points in the quarterfinals. Landfair averages 6.5 points a game.
“He was really active against us,” Blundo said. “He’s really long. He catches it on the block and he did a great job of finishing.”
Delvon Randall, a 6-1 junior guard, was next behind Landfair with 11 points against the ’Canes.
Dennis Boyce, a 5-11 senior guard, ranks second on the Gators in scoring at 12 markers a contest. Foul trouble limited Boyce against New Castle and he finished with just four points. Boyce tossed in 23 points with eight steals for Gateway in a WPIAL first-round playoff win over Kiski.
“Boyce has been starting at point guard for them for four years,” Blundo said. “He’s comfortable in big games.”
Blundo knows his team will get the Gators’ best shot tomorrow.
“I think both teams are understanding the magnitude of this game, he said. “Both teams have the exact same goal and that’s to win a state championship. You want to play the best basketball you can this time of year.”
Shawn Anderson, a 6-3 senior guard/forward and Navy recruit, paces New Castle in scoring at 20.5 points a game. He’s second in the county in scoring behind Neshannock’s Ernie Burkes (21.1 ppg.).
“On film, you don’t get to see how good that kid is,” Adams said. “He’s very explosive and dynamic; he’s the glue that’s held them together.”
Anderson tossed in a game-high 26 points in the first meeting against the Gators despite being in foul trouble in the first half.
“He got a lot of putbacks against us,” Adams said. “They do a lot of dribble drive and they’ll kick it to him. We left him alone and we didn’t want to.”
Anderson is averaging 8.2 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.4 steals a game. Blundo recognized the importance of Anderson staying out of foul trouble.
“Our best player needs to be on the floor,” Blundo said. “The longer you can keep your best guys on the floor the better.
“Shawn is one of the best players in the WPIAL and we need to keep him on the floor.”
Malik Hooker, a 6-2 junior guard/forward, follows Anderson at 16.7 points, 7.9 boards, three steals and 2.7 assists a matchup.
Anthony Richards, a 5-9 junior guard, nets 9.6 points a game to go with a county-best 68 3-pointers. Brandon Domenick, a 5-9 senior point guard and Gannon recruit, chips in nine markers a game to go with 58 3-pointers.
Domenick owns the program’s all-time record for 3-pointers made with 196.
“Hooker is a great athlete,” Adams said of Hooker. “They have the complete package, especially with their guards. Domenick is a legitimate point guard. He’s very good at ballhandling.
“Watching film the past couple of days, it’s hard to find a weakness with them.”
Four players reached double figures for the ’Canes in their win over Gateway.
“It’s hard to defend any one of them,” Adams said. “When you try to shut one down, someone else comes alive.
“We would like to try to limit that balance. But you try to stop one, and another one lights it up. And then another one. That was very difficult for us. They had hands in their face and they still were lighting it up against us.”
KEYS TO SUCCESS
New Castle’s 32-point win over Gateway was typical of how the team has finished off opponents all season long. The ’Canes forced 17 turnovers, while turning it over just seven times. And New Castle shot 52.5 percent (32 of 61) from the field compared to 42.6 percent (23 of 54) for the Gators.
“We have to take care of the ball,” Adams said. “We must limit their shooting by challenging each and every shot. We have to play good defense.”
New Castle held just a 28-26 advantage on the glass in the prior meeting with Gateway.
“We have to keep them off the glass. That can be their best offense,” Blundo said. “We have to guard them well and contest every shot; we need to execute on the offensive end, too.”
The winner moves on to the second round and will meet the survivor of the State College-North Allegheny matchup Wednesday.