AMBRIDGE — It was a game that nightmares are made of.
The New Castle High boys basketball team couldn’t buy a free throw when it needed to Tuesday night and the result was a painful 56-53 WPIAL Section 2-4A loss to host Ambridge.
The defeat drops the defending WPIAL champions to 3-2 in the section, 8-3 overall. Coach Mark Jula’s Bridgers lead the section at 5-0, 9-2. It's the first time Ambridge has beaten New Castle since Jan. 26, 2010 and just the third time Ambridge topped the Red Hurricane in the last 15 years.
New Castle made just 4 of 18 free throws on the night, including 1 of 11 in the fourth quarter. Star Marcus Hooker was held to 8 points, including 0 of 6 at the free throw line, all in the fourth quarter.
Georgie Eggleston was the Red Hurricane’s leading scorer with 12 points. Drew Cox added 9.
Aaron Hilzendeger paced the Bridgers with 22 points, including six 3-pointers. Tay Lindsey added 21 markers.
The ’Canes led 14-8 after one quarter, 32-27 at the half and 44-36 after three periods.
“We would get our lead up to 7, 8 points, but we could never get to that 10- or 11-point range where you start to pull away,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “Give credit to Ambridge on that, because they wouldn’t let the game get away from them.”
With two minutes remaining, New Castle held a six-point lead and had the ball.
“We spread the floor and they started fouling and we couldn’t get our free throws to drop,” Blundo said. “There’s no other way to say it.”
New Castle was up by 4 with 40 seconds remaining when junior forward Aaron Hilzendeger drilled a 3-pointer for Ambridge.
“It had to be a 32- or 33-footer,” Blundo said. “He nailed it.”
New Castle called a timeout and Hooker was fouled and missed both ends of the two-shot foul.
The ball landed in the hands of senior guard De’Marri Jones.
“That was the guy who we wanted to get the ball,” Blundo said. “We wanted him to take the shot.”
Jones did, from 3-point range — and he made it with 17 seconds remaining.
“To his credit, he drilled it,” Blundo said.
The Bridgers’ bench stormed the floor, but no technical was called.
“A technical should have been called there, but I’m OK with it,” Blundo said. “You win a basketball game by making free throws, not by the other team storming the floor.”
Eggleston missed a contested layup on the other end and Ambridge made one final free throw. Lorenzo Gardner’s 3-point attempt at the buzzer bounced off the rim.
“I thought we outplayed them, really the whole game, but we just didn’t close the game at the free throw line,” Blundo said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Ambridge because they shot the ball great and made timely shots. I’m sure there are some other things we could look at from our end, but you have to make those free throws.”
Blundo said that Wednesday is another day for the ’Canes as they try to regroup.
“The sun will come out and we will move on,” he said. “Losing a section game, especially losing two section games, is new to us, but as a coach, my job is to get them refocused.
“Tomorrow (Wednesday) will be fun,” Blundo added. “It is a great opportunity to teach. And an even better opportunity to learn. I’m looking forward to it.”