New Castle caps unbeaten season by winning PIAA Class AAAA title
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HERSHEY — New Castle can finally add a state title to its bundle of WPIAL championships.
Malik Hooker and Drew Allen each had 13 points, and New Castle won its first PIAA basketball title with a 52-39 victory over Philadelphia's La Salle College on Saturday night in the Class AAAA final at Giant Center.
The Red Hurricanes won their 10th WPIAL title earlier this season and third consecutive, but never had won in Hershey.
“This is something our community has been chasing for a lot of years,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “I just know how important it is to them. To see my guys accomplish something special, that's what it's all about.”
This season came with a perfect ending.
New Castle (31-0) became only the fourth undefeated Class AAAA boys champion since the PIAA added its largest basketball classification in 1984. It joins Williamsport (30-0 in 1984), Carlisle (33-0 in 1988) and Chester (32-0 in 2012).
No WPIAL boys team in any classification had finished as an undefeated state champion since Sto-Rox won the Class AA title in 1983.
“There is no feeling to describe it,” Hooker said. “We've been trying to get this done since the eighth grade, and to finally achieve it with all the hard work and effort, it's the best feeling in the world.”
Saturday night's doubleheader with the Class AAA girls final drew 6,641, with many wearing red and black.
“New Castle is unique,” Blundo said. “You see all of these people here? There are some who would spend their last dime to come support these kids.”
The 52 points were a season low for the Red Hurricanes, but they'd never celebrated more. The low-scoring style was more familiar for La Salle (23-7), the third-place team from District 12 (Philadelphia Catholic and public schools).
La Salle owned a few low-scoring wins. The Explorers beat St. Joseph's Prep, 38-33, in the state playoffs, and had a 39-31 regular-season win over Conwell-Egan.
New Castle had averaged 72.7 points this season. The Red Hurricanes scored more than 80 points nine times; three times, they reached 90. Their lowest point total this season was 55 against Hampton in the PIAA semifinals.
Tied 16-16 at halftime, New Castle broke through in the second half when senior Jake McPhatter made two 3-pointers and Hooker scored nine of his 13 points. A layup by Hooker with 3 seconds left in the third quarter provided a spark and a 30-24 lead.
“Coach Blundo is a great coach, and we made adjustments,” senior Anthony Richards said. “We got the ball into our best players' hands. We locked down defensively and got the win.”
With four points from both Drew and Stew Allen, New Castle led 10-9 after one quarter. La Salle took its first lead, 13-12, when junior Najee Wells made two free throws 3 minutes into the second quarter. It was the first of four lead changes in a two-minute span. The fourth lead change on a layup by Hooker gave New Castle a 16-15 lead.
A free throw by La Salle's Shawn Witherspoon with 1.5 seconds left forced a halftime tie.
Neither team made a 3-pointer in the first half. La Salle was 0 for 4. New Castle was 0 for 5, with Richards missing four times. But two third-quarter threes by McPhatter sparked a 10-2 New Castle run that turned a two-point deficit into a six-point lead.
New Castle led 26-20 after a layup by Drew Allen with 3:50 left in the third.
New Castle led 30-24 after three and pulled away slowly in the fourth. With 30 seconds left, New Castle's lead peaked at 13 points.
New Castle last reached the state championship in 1998 and lost the Class AAAA final to Harrisburg, 69-53. The Red Hurricanes also were state runners-up in 1936 to Newport Township, 36-34, and to Whitehall, 42-38, in 1982.
New Castle was 29-0 last season when it lost to Lower Merion in the state semifinals, and 27-0 in 2011-12 before a second-round loss to Montour.
Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.
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