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New Castle boys aren't bothered by spotlight

| Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013, 11:04 p.m.
Christopher Horner
New Castle's Malik Hooker scores against North Allegheny on Jan. 11, 2013 in McCandless. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
New Castle's Shawn Anderson scores against North Allegheny on Jan. 11, 2013 in McCandless. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
New Castle's Drew Allen puts up a 3-point shot against North Allegheny on Jan. 11, 2013 in McCandless. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Christopher Horner
New Castle point guard Brandon Domenick brings the ball upcourt against North Allegheny on Jan. 11, 2013 in McCandless. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review

A near-capacity crowd awaited New Castle when the Red Hurricanes visited North Allegheny a week ago, adding intensity to a section showdown of undefeated teams.

The atmosphere made Shawn Anderson feel rather at home.

“Not only does (the crowd) motivate us, but for the other teams it's a shock,” said Anderson, one of the WPIAL's most talented seniors. “Not everybody is used to playing in front of, what, there might have been 2,500 people? We've played against that multiple times. It's something that we're used to, and it works in our benefit.”

The Red Hurricanes are reacquainting themselves with Class AAAA basketball after four seasons away, but they're certainly not new to big gyms, large crowds or marquee matchups. They were WPIAL Class AAA champions last season and graduated just one senior from a lineup that finished 27-1 in 2012 and 20-8 in 2011.

Through the first six weeks, that composure has shown.

The No. 1-ranked Red Hurricanes have swept through all seven Section 3 opponents once without a loss, leaving them as the only unbeaten team in the WPIAL (14-0). That perfect record includes a 21-point victory over Hampton on Tuesday. The 'Canes had just a two-point lead entering fourth quarter but won comfortably, 75-54.

The closest of New Castle's section wins was 16 points against Butler. The largest was a 45-point rout of North Allegheny with the crowd as witness. The 'Canes also had 34-point victories over Seneca Valley and Shaler, and a 31-point win against North Hills.

The Class AAAA newcomers brought experience with them.

“I don't think there's any question that last year's season has served us well,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “When playing in front of 2,500 people in a hostile environment, we've been fortunate. ... We play in front of 1,500 or 2,000 every night at home. So, they're used to this kind of environment.”

New Castle was a Class AAAA power for decades before dropping in classification after the 2007-08 season, and its fans travel well when the Red Hurricanes are winning. They have eight WPIAL championships and are the only program to have won three consecutive Class AAAA titles (1997-99).

The team's leader is Anderson, a 6-foot-3 senior committed to the Naval Academy. He ranks fourth among Class AAAA scorers with 19.8 points. Good at getting to the basket, Anderson scored 21 points against Hampton and had 23 against North Allegheny.

“Everyone knows Shawn as a player, but no one knows him as a person,” Blundo said. “He's a driven kid ... a tremendous leader. When you have that type of leadership in the locker room that can maintain a constant focus, it's special for me. He's been an unbelievable kid to coach.”

Malik Hooker, a 6-2 junior forward, averages 16.8 points. Hooker scored 24 points Tuesday against Hampton.

Anderson, Hooker, senior Brandon Domenick (5-9) and junior Anthony Richards (5-9) were starters a season ago when New Castle started 27-0 before losing to Montour in the PIAA playoffs. Senior Antonio Rudolph (6-1) replaced graduated guard Corey Eggleston.

The lineup lacks size compared to some rosters, but compensates with an up-tempo offense that can shoot 3s.

Yet it's their press defense that most troubles opponents, causing turnovers by the dozens. The 'Canes forced 26 from North Allegheny to spark a 24-2 run.

Against Hampton, they had four in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter to start a 10-0 run. Those runs energize the 'Canes.

“The referees usually don't like when we scream,” Anderson said, “but it's just so exciting. The crowd's screaming. The adrenaline's going. It's an unbelievable feeling.”

Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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