The Lawrence County basketball playoff field was trimmed to 13 participants over the weekend.
COVID-19 close contact forced the New Castle High girls basketball team to forfeit Tuesday’s WPIAL Class 4A first-round road matchup against Quaker Valley.
“It’s heartwrenching. It happened so fast,” Lady ‘Canes coach Kara DiNardo-Joseph said. “I couldn’t even believe what was happening. As a whole, from the coaching staff all the way down to the girls, it crushed everyone.
“It really crushed me for Mia Graham, being that she’s the only senior. I could barely get the words out to my team.”
New Castle beat Ambridge in a Section 2-4A home game on Feb. 22, 50-45.
“I heard the news Saturday morning about Ambridge that two of their girls tested positive,” DiNardo-Joseph said. “From what I heard, I thought we would be in the clear.
“I had to stop practice because there’s a chance we might be shut down. Then 10 minutes later, we had to tell them. It’s been tough the whole year. You never want to go out that way without getting a chance to play. It really reminds you you can’t take anything for granted. At the drop of a hat, it can be taken from you.”
DiNardo-Joseph continued “Ambridge was infected, they played us after they were exposed. The two players who were positive played against us. We did everything we could to try to play. The WPIAL said it’s five days. We couldn’t test until Sunday or Monday. The tests would come back three or four days later. It just happened to us a little too late.”
The forfeit marks the third around the WPIAL over the weekend, as the Ambridge girls (Class 4A) forfeited to Burrell and the Propel Braddock Hills boys forfeited to Fort Cherry in Class 2A action, both because of COVID-related issues.
All seven Lawrence County schools were represented in the boys and girls basketball playoffs to mark 14 overall teams competing. Wilmington’s boys and girls basketball teams opted out of the District 10 playoffs.
The New Castle girls, which opted into the playoffs, posted a 3-10 record in Section 2 action and 5-11 overall. The Lady Quakers (13-4) move on to meet the survivor of Tuesday’s Montour-Belle Vernon matchup on Friday.
“It was tough all season,” DiNardo-Joseph said. “It felt like it was one thing after another. We start the season, we’re finally on track with a win, then we’re shut down.
“We get another win, then lose a couple of people to opting out. It is what it is, the world we live in and all. The injuries killed us. This wasn’t the conversation I thought we would be having; life throws you so many curveballs. Obviously, it hurts. It was always something.”
Despite the team’s record, DiNardo-Joseph has plenty of reasons to be proud of her team.
“The thing I take from it is that we battled throughout the season,” she said. “I told my team, ‘you girls played a game against the seventh-ranked team in the WPIAL (Montour) and you beat them with five girls. Playing a whole game like that, with only five players available, is impressive.’
“Our record may not show it, but I think we had a heck of a season. I would not trade anything. I bleed red and black. It was just such a bizarre year. I think it really bonded them.”
New Castle played with six girls the majority of the season.
“They have handled everything that was thrown their way,” DiNardo-Joseph said. “It was heartwrenching for it to end that way. It’s just not how you want to go out.
“We accepted every challenge and we kept pressing forward. Everyone should be proud of this team. Everyone worked hard. I’m sad to see it come to an end.”
It was the second consecutive trip to the WPIAL playoffs for DiNardo-Joseph’s Lady ‘Canes squad. A 2007 New Castle graduate, DiNardo-Joseph completed her fifth season at the helm.
“I’m excited where we’re at,” she said. “I know the numbers were down on the varsity side. You can’t force people to play because of the virus and injuries didn’t help.
“I believe in the program and I know what I have coming up. I have a good core of players coming up. I just really believe in what I’m doing. There’s going to be a lot of success to come. I’m super excited with we’re headed and I’m super excited for the future.”
New Castle’s boys team, which is seeded No. 2 in the WPIAL Class 5A bracket, will meet Plum at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House in the opening round. The Mustangs slipped past West Allegheny in the preliminary round on Saturday, 57-53. An attempt to reach ‘Canes coach Ralph Blundo for comment was unsuccessful.