AMBRIDGE -- There were many tears shed by New Castle High girls basketball players last night. Despite a spirited effort, the Lady 'Canes dropped a heartbreaking 54-50 decision to Oakland Catholic in the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals. While the loss hurts, New Castle has nothing to hang its head about. For nearly three quarters, the Lady Eagles (26-1) were on the ropes. They were playing with Jell-O legs for sure. The Lady 'Canes led most of the game and built their advantage to eight points late in the third stanza. But it just wasn't meant to be as Oakland Catholic showed why it's ranked No.1 in the state by several publications and No. 5 nationally by the USA Today. Seven players saw action for New Castle and each made their presence felt for the whole 32 minutes. Many have compared the 2004 WPIAL Class AAAA championship team to this year's version of the Lady 'Canes. That's not totally fair because each team took on its own identity. Two years ago, New Castle had a phenomenal run to the WPIAL crown as a No. 10 seed. This year, there was no catching the opposition by surprise as the Lady 'Canes entered the playoffs seeded fourth as Section 3-AAAA champions. Jaleesa Sams was a freshman in 2004. Her game has improved greatly. She scored 74 points in three WPIAL playoff games this year. Junior guard Ryenn Micaletti had a strong showing in the playoffs as well. She gained valuable experience. Senior Nikki Karatinos put the clamps down on the opposition like she has done throughout her career. The trio played against Oakland Catholic in 2004. While they were talented two years ago, they have matured and their games have evolved. The only thing lacking with this year's bunch is a gold medal. While New Castle has Division I prospects in Sams and Micaletti, the Lady Eagles are loaded in talent as well. Aysha Jones, who netted 23 points last night, is a North Carolina-Charlotte recruit. Angela Tassari has committed to West Virginia Wesleyan (Division II). Erica Prosser and Amanda Sedlack are also receiving Division I interest. Oakland Catholic's win propelled the squad into its eighth consecutive WPIAL championship game. It's proof that the Lady Eagles have the program that each quad-A school is striving to become. Last night's battle could be just the beginning of a great rivalry between the schools. New Castle has a solid foundation and is not far behind the Lady Eagles. The majority of the team returns next year for the Lady 'Canes. But before fans look to next year, there is still a task at hand. New Castle will open the PIAA playoffs on March 11 and if the girls pull together like they have throughout the season, their season will continue deep into March. Until then, New Castle has nothing to feel ashamed about and should stand tall and be proud of the effort it gave last night.

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