New Castle rolls into PIAA Class AAAA semifinals
EDINBORO — New Castle's Ralph Blundo had a sense during the pregame shootaround that his Red Hurricanes were destined for a good shooting day.
“We were making 90 percent of our threes,” he said.
By halftime, the coach was convinced. New Castle made 8 of its first 13 attempts from 3-point range, including all six in the second quarter of Saturday's 80-70 quarterfinal victory over Erie's Cathedral Prep in the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs.
When Brandon Domenick's shot swirled around the rim and fell through as the first half ended, the WPIAL champion Red Hurricanes had a 14-point lead.
“Sometimes it doesn't mean anything,” Blundo said of the shootaround success, “but I felt like we'd been shooting the ball great lately. And that carried over on the biggest stage.”
Domenick, a senior, and Anthony Richards, a junior, each made four 3-pointers before a capacity crowd in Edinboro's 3,300-seat field house. Domenick had three in the second quarter when New Castle used a 10-0 run to build a lead it never lost.
A 3-pointer by junior Malik Hooker gave New Castle a 25-24 lead with 6:55 left in the second quarter. Another by Richards 30 seconds later turned the one-point lead into four. Domenick hit a third 90 seconds later that pushed the lead to seven.
“Once you get a feel for it, they come in bunches,” said Richards, who had a pair of 3-pointers in the second and two more in the third.
Hooker led New Castle (29-0) with 23 points, including two 3-pointers. The junior also made 5 of 6 free throws in the fourth quarter to hold the lead. Shawn Anderson scored 20 points, Richards had 15 and Domenick had 14.
Hooker and Anderson combined for 20 of New Castle's first 23 points, before Richards and Domenick began sinking threes. New Castle shot better than 50 percent (25 of 47) from the field, including 11 of 20 from 3-point range.
Sheldon Zablotny scored 24 for Cathedral Prep (23-2), the District 10 champion, and Conor Colpoys had 19.
Prep had led, 22-20, after the first quarter. It also won the third quarter (16-13) and fourth (20-19), but was badly outscored, 28-12, in the second.
“We had one bad stretch,” Majewski said. “After that it was pretty much even the rest of the way. ... Unfortunately, the one quarter we lost, we lost pretty bad.”
The 'Canes' halftime lead was 48-34. It remained double figures until the final 2 minutes, when a 3-pointer by Zablotney narrowed the gap to eight. To secure the victory, New Castle made 9 of 13 free throws in the fourth.
Lower Merion (26-3) awaits New Castle in Tuesday's semifinals. The District 1 runner-up advanced with a 63-62 victory Saturday over Harrisburg, the District 3 champion. In the other semifinal, District 1 champion Chester (27-3) will face Philadelphia's St. Joseph's Prep (24-5), the third-place team from District 12.
The three eastern semifinalists are big and talented, but Majewski said New Castle could win the state title.
“The tough thing going forward for us or them is simply the size matchups,” he said. “But New Castle defends so well and they shoot the ball so well. I think they can (win the title).”
New Castle did both well during that 50-second span of the second quarter. Trailing 24-20, the 'Canes employed their half-court trap and forced three quick turnovers. A layup by Anderson, the 3-pointers by Hooker and Richards, and two free throws by Anderson gave New Castle a 30-24 lead.
“We really haven't seen (that pressure) a lot this year,” Majewski said. “That's one thing unique about New Castle; there aren't a lot of teams that play that way. ... They do it for 32 minutes. It's not a 30-minute thing. Or a 25-minute thing. It's 32 minutes, and they leave everything out there. I think that's what makes them so good.”