One more round.
The New Castle High boys basketball team is ready to battle Quaker Valley for the WPIAL Class 4A championship. It’s the third meeting this year between the Section 2 rivals and it’s also the third straight year the teams have tussled with the district crown at stake.
The game is set for 1 p.m. tomorrow at the University of Pittsburgh’s Petersen Events Center.
“We’re excited for the opportunity,” said Red Hurricane coach Ralph Blundo, who is in his ninth season at the helm. “We know how talented they are. We just want another opportunity and we’re fortunate to have that.”
Quaker Valley coach Mike Mastroianni noted the difficult road each team has traveled to this point.
“For both of us to get through to the championship game for three years in a row is very difficult,” he said. “I’m not surprised at all that they’re there.
“Their program is at that high level of success. They have a culture of winning and they’re used to winning. It’s the next group up for them and it shows.”
The top-seeded Red Hurricane (20-4) lost both matchups to the Quakers in the regular season, 67-48 at home and 70-67 in overtime on the road. New Castle, though, has won each of the last two WPIAL title tilts against Quaker Valley.
“There’s a familiarity on both ends,” Blundo said. “The game will start 0-0 and there’ll be no advantage on either side.
“I think it helps a bit that the second game down there was competitive, sure. I think our guys believe any game they go into they believe they can win.”
The ‘Canes have reached the WPIAL semifinals or beyond in all nine years of Blundo’s direction. In fact, New Castle is appearing in its sixth district championship under Blundo. The ‘Canes are 5-0 in those games.
New Castle has a chance to make history tomorrow. The ‘Canes are bidding for their 13th WPIAL championship. That ranks second behind Farrell, which captured 13 between 1951 and 1992. Aliquippa and Duquesne also have 12 WPIAL crowns. Duquesne closed in 2007 and Farrell now competes in District 10.
Ryan Stowers, a 6-foot-5 senior guard, leads the Quakers in scoring at 22.6 points a game.
“He’s a really versatile player,” Blundo said. “He shoots it well, he drives and rebounds the ball; he’s long and skilled. You just don’t see that much in high school basketball.”
Danny Conlan, a 6-5 senior forward, is next at 16.1 points a game for Quaker Valley.
“He does everything well,” Blundo said. “He has an excellent pull-up jumper, he’s a great free-throw shooter and he can slash to the hoop.
“Conlan creates quite a tough matchup problem.”
Demetris McKnight, a 6-0 junior guard/forward, leads New Castle in scoring at 13.5 points a game. McKnight hasn’t played the previous two games for undisclosed reasons.
Sheldon Cox, a 6-2 sophomore guard, is averaging 12.7 points a game for the ‘Canes. Cox tossed in 27 tallies in a 68-62 semifinal win over Highlands. He hit his career high of 29 points in the road loss to Quaker Valley on Jan. 29.
“Sheldon has had a fantastic season,” Mastroianni said. “He’s taken on a high scoring level and he’s consistently up there and playing really well.
“Shooting-wise, he does a good job. He scores multiple ways. Any time you can stretch the defense and make shots the way he does it adds a whole other dimension.”
Drew Cox, a 6-1 senior guard/forward, is next in scoring for New Castle at 11.8 markers a matchup.
“What makes them good is multiple guys can step up,” Mastroianni said. “That makes it difficult when you’re coaching, you have to pay attention to all of them.”
Michael Wells, a 6-2 freshman guard/forward, chips in 10.7 points a game for the ‘Canes.
Blundo kept the keys to another championship victory basic.
“We have to defend and rebound. Those two things are important,” he said. “We have to finish opportunities when we get them and play good, fundamental basketball.”
Mastroianni knows his team has a tough task tomorrow.
“Any time you are playing New Castle, it’s a high-level basketball game,” Mastroianni said. “They don’t take games off. You have to match their intensity and take care of the ball.
“There’s a fine line with them. They create offense with their defense and they’re so good at it.”
Both teams will compete in the state playoffs, which opens March 8.