Some things in life are certainties.
The sun will rise in the east and set in the west. There will always be taxes. And the New Castle High boys basketball team will show up when it matters most.
That’s what the Red Hurricane did, as it always does, on Saturday in the WPIAL final, defeating Quaker Valley 57-52 to claim the Class 4A championship for the second year in a row.
“It feels tremendous,” New Castle coach and team mastermind Ralph Blundo said. “It was a group that had to come so far. The gap was enormous. They kept working. They kept fixing the controllable mistakes. They were really good in the film room and I really think that that’s where most of our growth took place.”
New Castle (21-4), which starts five seniors in Carrington Smith, Lorenzo Gardner, Marcus Hooker, Georgie Eggleston and Cahlil Dorman, didn’t start the season as title favorites.
In fact, before the season, the ’Canes weren’t even sure if Gardner and Smith were going to play. Garden tore his ACL, MCL and PCL in the offseason and missed the entirety of his senior football season. Smith, meanwhile, suffered an injury in a preseason scrimmage that was initially misdiagnosed as a torn meniscus. One day before surgery, Blundo took him to get a second opinion and it was ruled that the ligament was intact and that he’d be fine to play.
Gardner, who wasn’t even sure he’d be cleared to play, ended up leading the team with 15 points in the championship game
“It was a healthy Lorenzo Gardner,” Blundo said in comparing Gardner now to when he was first reintegrated into the rotation. “That was the difference. We always knew Lorenzo Gardner was an excellent basketball player. An unhealthy Lorenzo Gardner was going to struggle, just like anybody would. The most important thing for him was that he maintained a great mental approach.
The senior guard said he was emotional when he heard the final buzzer sound, knowing he was close to having his entire senior athletic season taken from him.
“I thought of all the hard work I put in,” Gardner said. “I was really speechless. It was an incredible moment knowing what I had been through.”
Blundo also went on to praise Dorman, who is perhaps the most unheralded member of the ’Canes’ starting five, but stepped up big in the championship game.
“I was so happy for Cahlil,” he said. “Ten points, eight rebounds and two huge charges that he took and then two free throws to seal the game. It’s poetic justice. You like to think that if you work hard you deserve great results and those results that he got are a product of really hard work.”
Hard work is a phrase you can’t escape when you talk about this New Castle team. A team led by a high-caliber football recruit in Hooker who would just as happily take a backseat if it meant his team was successful. A team that at one point appeared headed for a third-place finish in its own section.
But, like Blundo has preached, the ’Canes embraced that mantra of hard work and as a result, they walk as WPIAL champions yet again.