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'Canes fall to Butler in section action

Jan. 6—The Golden Tornado was mightier than the Red Hurricane on Friday.

The Butler High boys basketball team captured a 68-53 WPIAL Section 1-6A victory over New Castle at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House.

"There's no person that has more respect for Ralph Blundo, his program and what New Castle basketball is and to come up on a Friday night and get a section win here against a well-prepared team that has two losses on the season...I'm proud of my guys and the way they played," Butler coach Matt Clement said. "They kept their composure. They shortened the game a little bit in the fourth quarter to help us out and let them stay away from that New Castle run that everybody knows about that can happen late in a game. We had some big rebounds, we handled the ball really well and I'm just proud of my guys."

New Castle is now 0-2 in section play. The last time the 'Canes (9-3 overall) held a 0-2 record in section action was in the 2009-10 season.

"They beat us. They made great shots and played outstanding in big moments and you credit them for that," New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said of the loss. "Of course we did a bunch of things wrong that we need to correct because we're so young. At the end of the day, they made great shots when their backs were against the wall because we were coming."

Are the 'Canes now in the growing pains stage of the season?

"It's a byproduct of being in a good section with good teams," Blundo said. "Yeah, we're 0-2, but we'll turn the page and we're looking forward to the next game. We're going to get better."

New Castle's Damian Harrison got on a roll for New Castle early in the first quarter. Harrison led the 'Canes with 20 points and posted nine tallies in the first.

"I thought Damian was really, really good tonight," Blundo said. "I would have liked to have gotten the ball in his hands a little bit more at certain times. But, that's a kid who is growing, getting better, getting tougher and getting stronger. He's just a sophomore and he has some great days ahead of him."

Butler (2-0, 9-1) kept up the pace alongside New Castle and a 3-pointer from Lucas Tayt with 48 seconds remaining in the first quarter helped tie the game at 15.

Butler started to gain an advantage in the second quarter with the tandem of Braylon Littlejohn and Donovan Carney.

"I have two really good guards and then I have three or four other ones that supplement them really well. Donovan and Braylon play really well together," Clement said. "They really do. They're able to screen, re-screen each other, fake screen and pop. It's a hard guard."

The long passes from Littlejohn and open looks for Carney gave Butler an eight-point lead over New Castle at halftime.

"They're just two high-level guards," Blundo said of Littlejohn and Carney. "I felt like we did a good job defensively. They made tough shots and that's a credit to them."

Early in the third quarter, New Castle's Ralphie Blundo got things going with some long balls and his teammate Kyrell Harris sank one of his own to capture a brief one-point lead.

Ralphie Blundo supplied 19 points for his team.

"They did a good job on (Ralphie)," Coach Blundo said. "I thought that Ralphie forced a couple of things. He's got to be careful about that. Sometimes you just have to let the game come to you a little bit. He's young, too. He's just a junior and it's all about learning for him, too."

Butler responded with several 3-pointers of its own near the end of the third quarter to regain the lead and hold a 52-41 advantage over the 'Canes heading into the fourth.

"It was majorly important. They took a one-point lead," Clement said on bouncing back in the third. "We haven't played a ridiculous schedule against the top 10 teams around here, but we've played some good teams around here and have been in some close games late, including the one against Seneca (Valley) the other night.

"I think everybody looked at me like I was crazy when we prepared for a 1-2-2, half court, not trapping zone. I just felt like he got us with it last year late in the game when we cut it close. We were prepared for it. I don't know if we really did a great job against it, but at least it wasn't like an, 'Oh no. What do I do?' deer-in-the-headlights look."

Several more 3-pointers from Carney and multiple trips to the free-throw line in the fourth quarter kept New Castle at bay. Carney posted a game-high 28 points.

"Donovan's got range. Donovan really works at his craft," Clement said. "He's long and (being) left-handed makes it a little different when you're guarding that jump shot, but Donovan's a really good player."

New Castle seemed to be rushing offensive strikes in the fourth with the pressure mounting. Coach Blundo said he felt the team was rushing, "A little bit," adding, "There's just many things when you're young. It's about growing, it's about experience, it's about learning and it's about getting better. These things do not happen overnight."

New Castle will travel to Central Catholic High School at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday for another section battle.

"We'll be ready to go," Blundo said on the upcoming game.