Feb. 3—The New Castle High boys basketball team celebrated Groundhog Day by repeating a section win over Central Catholic.
The Red Hurricane eked out a 54-48 WPIAL Section 1-6A win over Central Catholic, the defending WPIAL Class 6A champions, at the Ne-Ca-Hi Field House on Friday. New Castle is still in contention for entering the playoffs after the win.
"It was huge because it gives us a chance," New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said of the win. "We're looking to find our way into the playoffs because we know what we ultimately always want to do and you can't do it unless you get there. We're trying to get better each and every day. I felt like this was a day that, for a majority of the game, we were gritty and competed really, really hard. That's the only way to win in 6A."
Central Catholic's only two losses in the section this season have come at the hands of New Castle (2-6 section, 13-7 overall). Last season, the Vikings (6-2, 11-8) handed New Castle a 61-52 loss in the WPIAL 6A championship.
The mystique of the rivalry grows. But, for New Castle's Damian Harrison — who supplied 19 points in the game — the outlined goal right now is simple.
"I just want to make it to The Pete," the 6-foot-4 Harrison said about moving forward in section action.
It was neck-and-neck in the first quarter and Blundo brought in Chase Lemmon, a sophomore, to create some havoc on the defensive end.
"Chase is just a young guy who works hard in practice and he bothers us defensively," Blundo said. "He plays with great energy and is tough. He gave us some really good minutes, particularly in the first half."
Coach Blundo commented on the Viking's man-to-man defense.
"They're an excellent man-to-man basketball team," he said. "You know, 21-21 at the half. We've said all year that if you want to win games in 6A you have to hold teams under 50. We held them to 47 and we won the game."
New Castle's Ralphie Blundo sank a bucket with 1:01 left to give his team a one-point lead heading into the second quarter. Ralphie Blundo paced the 'Canes with 20 points.
"It's a huge win," Ralphie Blundo said. "We're still in it. We're New Castle so we expect to be in the playoffs. This is a huge momentum shift. Leading up to this game, we were locked in at practice. We were focused on every single little thing and were working on the mistakes we made leading up to this to put us in this position. I'm proud we got the big win."
For Coach Blundo, his son's 20 points and Harrison's 19 were not the focal point.
"I think more than the points, for us tonight, it was about doing things the Red Hurricane way," Coach Blundo said. "It was about competing hard for the entire time we were out there."
Both teams regained a brief lead several times in the second quarter, but Ralphie Blundo managed to sink another bucket with 48 seconds left to enter halftime with the game tied up at 21.
Unselfish passing paid dividends for New Castle in the first half.
"We had some opportunities in transition where we were able to deliver some passes for some layups," Coach Blundo said. "That was important. I just thought we did a lot right tonight. I'm sure when I watch the film there'll be some things I didn't like but that's basketball."
The start of the third quarter was crucial for New Castle.
"We thought the first four minutes were critical," Coach Blundo said. "We hung our hat on being really good out of halftime for 13 years, but that hasn't been the case this year. That had to change today; it had to be different."
The 'Canes dealt with some adversity in Central Catholic going for a full-court press and trying to double-team guards on Harrison.
"We got in a couple of situations that were difficult and they brought some good pressure," Coach Blundo said. "We had one or two turnovers and a 10-second call. Other than that, I thought we attacked it much better than we have in the past."
New Castle outscored Central Catholic 17-14 in the third quarter to enter the fourth with a three-point lead. A 3-pointer from Harrison and a bucket from Ralphie Blundo put New Castle ahead by six points.
"We wanted (this win) real bad. Really, really bad," Harrison said. "At practice, every day we were working; trying our hardest. We even had fights about it. We just wanted to push each other to the next level to make sure we could win.
"It was like our whole team shifted our whole momentum. We all just needed to pitch in, give good energy and win the game."
With 1:28 remaining in the game, Harrison sank another long ball to put the 'Canes up by seven. Central Catholic tried to close in but some free throws from Ralphie Blundo and a field goal from Kyrell Harris kept them at bay.
Key rebounds were made by New Castle's Noreaga Jackson and JT Warren in the fourth quarter.
"Norey's a gritty, young player. He's a 14-year-old kid playing 6A basketball games as a ninth grader. That's a big deal and it's given him great experience and he keeps getting better," Coach Blundo said. "I thought JT was really good tonight. He rebounded the ball fantastic."
With 1.6 seconds left in the game, a foul was called on Central Catholic and Harris approached the charity stripe while New Castle's student section chanted "It's all over."
The 'Canes will travel to Pine-Richland (3-5, 7-11) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. The Rams won the first meeting, 62-49. New Castle is in a must-win position as Pine-Richland currently occupies the fourth and final playoff spot out of the league. A loss would eliminate the 'Canes with just one more section game game left after Tuesday.
"You've got to win," Coach Blundo said. "It's win or go home."