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Undefeated New Castle boys basketball rolls past Gateway in state playoffs

| Saturday, March 9, 2013, 10:30 p.m.
New Castle's Malik Hooker finishes a dunk against Gateway on Saturday, March 9, 2013, during their PIAA Class AAAA first-round game at North Allegheny. (Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review)
Hopewell's Shatori Walker-Kimbrough gets a rebound in front of Villa Maria Academy's Morgan Putnam during their PIAA Class AAA girls playoff game Saturday, March 9, 2013, at North Allegheny. (Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review)

New Castle coach Ralph Blundo has wanted a PIAA banner to hang at his high school since he was 9 and the Red Hurricanes lost the 1982 state championship game.

“I was devastated as a kid,” said Blundo, who later played for the program that has won nine WPIAL titles but no state championships. “That team really inspired me to get into basketball.”

His current team has drawn similar praise, but Blundo won't start packing for Hershey quite yet.

New Castle took a small first step Saturday with a lopsided 68-48 first-round victory over Gateway in the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs, building a 32-point lead before pulling its starters.

“I would love for that to happen for our community and for our kids,” Blundo said. “But we know that there's no way to do that without taking it one step at a time.”

Shawn Anderson scored 18 points, Malik Hooker had 15 and Anthony Richards added 12 for New Castle (27-0), the WPIAL champion. Delvon Randall had 17 points for Gateway (16-7).

Three-pointers by Richards, Brandon Domenick and Antonio Rudolph in the second quarter sparked a 13-2 run that gave the Red Hurricanes a 43-18 halftime lead. A 10-1 run to start the fourth stretched the lead to 63-31 with four minutes left.

“We're hungry,” Hooker said. “Last year we went to the (second round in Class AAA) and lost to Montour. We just don't want that to happen again because after that game, our team was pretty much hurt.”

New Castle forced 20 turnovers and outrebounded Gateway by one (25-24). Hooker and Anderson each had eight rebounds.

New Castle had 15 extra possessions, a combination of turnover margin and offensive rebounds. For the season, the team averaged 22 extra possessions per game.

“What impressed me most about my team is how hard we grind,” Hooker said.

This was the second meeting in two weeks for these teams. New Castle won, 87-55, on Feb. 23 in the WPIAL quarterfinals, convincing Gateway coach Mitch Adams that New Castle could win a state title.

“If they shoot the ball like they do, I don't know who's going to beat them,” Adams said. “I honestly don't. They're a very, very good ballclub.”

But the road remains long. Seven of the past eight Class AAAA titles were won by District 1 teams from suburban Philadelphia.

Mt. Lebanon reached the PIAA Class AAAA championship game two seasons ago, losing to Chester. Penn Hills won the championship in 2004, the most recent WPIAL team to claim the title (the City League's Schenley won in 2007).

New Castle has a third meeting this season with section foe North Allegheny in Wednesday's second round. For the winner, a rematch with Hampton could come in the PIAA quarterfinals.

And should they clear that, a semifinal matchup with District 1 runner-up Lower Merion (24-3) or District 3 champion Harrisburg (25-2) could come next.

“After now, these are all good teams,” Hooker said. “All the teams that are playing right now are not average or descent — they're all pretty good.”

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

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