Unbeaten New Castle hammers Kiski Area in Class AAAA semifinals
A non-factor this far in the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, Kiski Area essentially entered uncharted waters when it took the court for the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals.
It didn't take long for the team to realize it was being circled by sharks — in a sea of New Castle red.
In its first semifinal appearance in 12 years, wide-eyed Kiski Area had 29 turnovers — 17 via steals — and couldn't keep up with top-seeded New Castle's speed in a 77-23 loss Wednesday night before an estimated crowd of 3,000 at North Allegheny.
Facing relentless defensive pressure, 13th-seeded Kiski Area (17-6) was fidgety on offense and fell behind 36-14 at the half and 63-17 after three quarters. The game went to the mercy rule and running clock late in the third quarter.
“Our kids seemed a little shocked by what they saw,” Kiski Area coach Joey Tutchstone said. “They had never seen anything like that. They were ripping it out of our hands, taking it from us. They're amazing.”
Defending champion New Castle (25-0) moved on to the Class AAAA championship to face No. 2 Hampton (22-3) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Palumbo Center.
New Castle beat Hampton in the finals the past two years, including 2012 when the teams were in Class AAA.
Senior 6-foot-1 forward Malik Hooker scored a game-high 20 points and made eight steals, while 6-3 senior Stew Allen and senior guard Jake McPhatter chipped in 12 apiece for the Red Hurricanes, who presold 1,100 tickets for the game.
“We have a culture here of guys who work extremely hard,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “When you have a bunch of guys who play that hard together, it can be pretty special.”
Kiski Area also lost to New Castle in 2002 semifinals, 70-66, when Tutchstone was a star guard.
The Cavaliers, who have the PIAA playoffs to look forward to, scored just nine field goals and made only two 3-pointers after hitting 11 in a 82-73 overtime win over Gateway in the quarterfinals.
“There isn't a team better than them in the WPIAL,” Tutchstone said of New Castle. “When you turn the ball over like that and can't finish plays that are right in front of you, it's easy to lose confidence. They have guys who have played in 20 playoff games. Our guys aren't even close to that.”
Kiski Area managed to get within 14-9 on a 3-pointer by Mike Simmons from the top of the key with 2:29 left in the first quarter. Simmons scored a team-high 10 points.
But it was all New Castle from there. The Red Hurricanes outscored Kiski Area, 19-5, in the second quarter and 27-3 in the third.
Kiski Area had 20 turnovers in the first half, including one that led to another dunk by Hooker.
McPhatter's 3-pointer at 1:51 of the third quarter invoked the mercy rule after New Castle's lead swelled to 42.
McPhatter's father, Jake, was seriously injured in a vehicle accident Tuesday. Blundo said McPhatter has a broken neck but is expected to live.
“We said before the game, ‘This one's for Jake,' ” Blundo said.
Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.