WEXFORD — It’s off to the Sweet 16 for the New Castle High boys basketball team.
The Red Hurricane put together a strong second half en route to a 72-61 PIAA Class 4A win over Titusville at North Allegheny High last night.
“There are 16 teams left, right now, in the state of Pennsylvania. You’re one of them,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo told his team in the locker room after last night’s win. “I want to get down to four on this side of the state and eight in the entire state and then see what happens. I know what we’re capable of.”
The win is the 250th of Blundo’s coaching career. He’s 224-31 in nine seasons as New Castle’s coach and 250-33 all-time, which counts a 26-2 ledger in one season at George Junior Republic.
“I’ve had a lot of good players,” Blundo assessed of his 250th career win. “There’s not a coach in the world that wins a lot of basketball games without good players. It’s an impossibility.
“I know a lot of people don’t realize it, but it’s the truth. I’ve been blessed with really good players but even better kids. It’s been the perfect storm for me coming in here and the way some things have transpired. I know I’m fortunate that way.”
New Castle (22-4) advances to meet Grove City (17-9) in the second round Tuesday at a time and site to be determined. The Eagles advanced with a 67-52 decision over Bedford. Grove City is coached by Mohawk High graduate Chris Kwolek, who is in his first season at the helm. Former New Castle High girls basketball coach Jason Rankin also is in his first season on the Eagles’ staff. Rankin also is a New Castle graduate.
Titusville was appearing in the state playoffs for the first time since 1985.
The ’Canes held a 31-29 halftime advantage courtesy of a Payne Prowell field goal with 11 seconds to go in the half.
“We felt like it was a close game but we were saying to ourselves that we just need to keep getting stops,” Prowell said. “We have a whole other 16 minutes to get more stops and win more possessions than the other team.”
Sheldon Cox put New Castle up for good with a field goal with 6:24 to go in the third period at 33-31. Prowell netted six of the ’Canes’ 21 third-quarter points on a pair of 3-pointers.
“I stepped right into it. It felt like a good shot,” Prowell said of his two trifectas. “I felt like after the three we built a lot of momentum. We went right into our pressure. It slowed them down a little bit. We kept our pressure on and tried to build our momentum after every stop.”
New Castle tried to put the Rockets (18-6) away in the third quarter. The ‘Canes built two 10-point leads. The first time Titusville quickly cut it to five points at 47-42.
“I give credit to Titusville,” Blundo said. “Even though I felt like we had a good week of practice, I was really genuinely concerned.
“Titusville is a nice basketball team. How do you not give credit to Titusville? Titusville played good basketball tonight. Maybe they were a big reason why we didn’t play well.”
The ‘Canes settled for a 52-44 lead going to the final frame. The Rockets got it down to five points twice early in the fourth. But New Castle proved to be too much down the stretch.
“We shot it really poorly in the first half. We shot it much better in the second half,” Blundo said. “We got some loose balls, too. I think our pressure kind of got us going a little bit. I don’t think they completely went away.”
Demetris McKnight returned to the New Castle lineup. McKnight had missed the previous three games for undisclosed reasons. He netted a team-best 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting.
“Demetris, although he did some really good things, he was a bit rusty,” Blundo said. “I just think he played well. He’s a great kid and he played hard. We’re happy he’s back.
“He’s an elite athlete. When you take an elite athlete that plays hard, that’s something special.”
Sheldon Cox was next for New Castle with 14 points and his brother Drew Cox cashed in 13. Prowell and Michael Wells added 11 markers apiece.
JaiQuil Johnson led all scorers with 25 points for the Rockets.
NEW CASTLE VS. TITUSVILLE
PIAA CLASS 4A PLAYOFFS AT NORTH ALLEGHENY
JaiQuil Johnson 8 6-6 25, Cade Skinner 3 0-0 8, Ethan Roberts 1 0-0 2, Cole Culver 2 2-2 6, Guy Anthony 5 1-2 11, Elijah Perez 1 2-2 4, Willie Colon 1 3-3 5. Totals: 21 14-15 61.
NEW CASTLE (72)
Payne Prowell 4 1-4 11, Donte Burnett 3 0-2 7, Sheldon Cox 4 4-4 14, Drew Cox 5 2-2 13, Michael Graham 0 0-0 0, Michael Wells 3 2-2 11, Demetris McKnight 5 6-9 16. Totals: 24 15-23 72.
TITUSVILLE 11 18 15 17 — 61
NEW CASTLE 19 12 21 20 — 72
3-point goals — Titusville 5 (Johnson 3, Skinner 2), New Castle 9 (Wells 3, Prowell 2, S. Cox 2, Burnett 1, D. Cox 1).