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New Castle sweeps past NA into quarterfinals

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Wednesday, March 12, 2014, 10:18 p.m.
 

Wednesday's game between North Allegheny and New Castle had a familiar ending.

Fueled by an 11-0 run in the second quarter, New Castle (28-0) edged WPIAL Section 3-AAAA rival North Allegheny, 64-54, in the second round of the PIAA playoffs at Ambridge.

New Castle also defeated North Allegheny (22-5) last season in the second round of the state playoffs and won both regular-season meetings.

“They've all just been really good battles,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “When you play North Allegheny, you've got to fight like heck to win the basketball game.”

A gutsy performance from Malik Hooker led New Castle. Hooker played through a wrist injury to score a team-high 22 points. He wore a wrap on the wrist during warm-ups but decided against it during the game.

“My wrist was still sore, but I wasn't really comfortable with it,” Hooker said. “I just took it off and had to play through it.”

New Castle had to overcome a 32-point performance by North Allegheny's Cole Constantino. The junior scored 16 of his team's first 21 points and hit three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to keep the Tigers in the game.

“We knew they were going to deny shooters,” North Allegheny coach Dave DeGregorio said. “Cole is our best one-on-one guy, so we gave him space and let him go, and he had a good night.”

North Allegheny held Hooker to two points in the first quarter, but he took over for a stretch at the start of the second with his team clinging to a three-point lead.

With his team leading 17-14, Hooker scored eight straight New Castle points and jump-started an 11-0 run.

“I'm more of a player where I'm not going to force shots,” Hooker said. “I'm going to let the game come to me. I was a little tentative coming out with my wrist, but eventually I thought, ‘It's now or never.' ”

The Tigers pulled within 55-46 but couldn't prevent a season sweep.

“The challenge for preparing for them is to get a look in practice as to what the speed is going to look like during the game because they're so athletic in so many spots,” DeGregorio said.

Stew Allen added 12 points for New Castle, including seven in the fourth quarter.

“Stew is always a key to our game because he's just down there bumping around with bigger guys and outworking them,” Hooker said. “A lot of people don't give Stew the credit that he deserves.”

New Castle moves on to the PIAA quarterfinals Saturday, when it will face Thursday's winner of Hampton-Erie McDowell at Farrell. New Castle defeated Hampton, 55-49, in the WPIAL championship.

Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at ghorvath@tribweb.com.

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