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New Castle rallies past rival Hampton

| Saturday, March 15, 2014, 8:15 p.m.
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
New Castle's Drew Allen and Hampton's Collin Luther chase a loose ball with Hampton's Chandler McKinney (30) and Jack Obringer in the back during a PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal game Saturday, March 15, 2014, at Bethel Park. New Castle won 57-55.

New Castle senior Anthony Richards paused to think over the previous eight games with Hampton, trying to remember one that was any better.

He couldn't.

“This has got to be the best,” Richards said Saturday after New Castle beat Hampton, 57-55, in a PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal. “Definitely the biggest one. Definitely the toughest one.”

A capacity crowd at Bethel Park's 2,450-seat gym saw New Castle beat rival Hampton for the fourth time this season and the ninth consecutive time over three seasons. But this win came only after New Castle rallied in the second half to erase a nine-point Hampton lead.

Measured in terms of intensity, importance and drama, this final clash between two senior-heavy lineups likely bettered all others — their three WPIAL finals at Palumbo Center notwithstanding.

“This was like an NBA series,” said New Castle senior Malik Hooker, who tied for team-high honors with 11 points despite sitting the entire second quarter with three fouls. “You like the competition, but you're happy you're not playing them anymore.”

WPIAL champion New Castle (29-0) next will face Abington, the sixth-place team from District 1. Abington (25-5) advanced with a 56-52 victory Saturday over District 12 runner-up Martin Luther King (25-6), a Philadelphia public school. A time and site for Tuesday's semifinal have not been announced.

Hampton (24-5) lost just five times this season, and four were to New Castle.

Senior guard Collin Luther had 26 points for Hampton. Pitt recruit Ryan Luther had 13 points but none in the second half. David Huber had 10.

“To beat a team like New Castle, you need to have all of your pistons firing at full strength,” Hampton coach Joe Lafko said. “If there's a lapse in one, you're probably going to lose.”

The Luther brothers, 6-foot-7 Collin and 6-9 Ryan, took Hampton to three consecutive WPIAL finals, each time losing to New Castle.

“They're a major reason for the success of Hampton basketball the last four years,” Lafko said. “None of those kids have anything to be ashamed of.”

Hampton trailed 18-11 after Saturday's first quarter but rallied while Hooker was out. The Talbots outscored New Castle, 23-9, in the second quarter and were ahead 34-27 at halftime. With 4:40 left in the third quarter, Hampton's lead peaked at 41-32.

But New Castle erased it with a 16-6 run that included consecutive threes by junior Robert Natale and Richards, who had nine points.

Natale had 11 points. Drew Allen and Stew Allen added 10 each for New Castle.

A 3-pointer by Richards forced a 45-45 tie 76 seconds into the fourth quarter. Layups by Hooker and Drew Allen gave New Castle leads at 48-47 and 50-49; the second lead it never lost. A layup by Stew Allen pushed the lead to three.

When Collin Luther was called for an intentional foul with 43.5 seconds left, Drew Allen made 1 of 2 free throws, and Natale made two more to build a six-point lead.

“We've never been down seven at halftime,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said, “... but possession by possession, we really focused on the process and not the outcome. I think that played a big part in our ability to keep grinding.”

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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