Ron Poniewasz Jr.: Column by Ron Poniewasz Jr..: New Castle High capped off a perfect championship storm 10 years ago

Mar. 23—Memories.

They will last a lifetime. It doesn't matter what they are.

A birthday. Anniversary. Vacation. Or perhaps winning the program's first state basketball championship.

That's what the New Castle High boys basketball team accomplished on March 22, 2014, beating La Salle College High School, 52-39, at the GIANT Center in Hershey.

That's right, it's been 10 years. Time sure flies when you're having fun.

The 2014 season was such an enjoyable ride for the Red Hurricane basketball team, comprising the student-athletes, coaches, students and fan base. And what a fan base New Castle boasts. There's no other fan base like New Castle, that's for sure. Fans will travel all over just to get a glimpse of their beloved Red Hurricane.

New Castle finished the year 31-0, famously preaching their slogan 'Together' many times during games and putting it on their championship T-shirt. The program still uses that slogan today.

Four of the 'Canes' wins that year came against WPIAL Section 3-4A rival Hampton. All four games were played in front of overflow crowds. New Castle's 57-55 win over the Talbots on March 15, 2014, at Bethel Park in the PIAA quarterfinals came in gritty fashion.

Robert Natale keyed the 'Canes to victory in that matchup, making three free throws in four attempts in the final 32.9 seconds. New Castle trailed by nine points in the third quarter in a game it just simply refused to lose. Every player that took the court left everything they had on that Bethel Park floor that afternoon.

The 'Canes faced another tough foe in Abington. New Castle trekked all the way to Chambersburg for the game, and the fans were there every step of the way. The 'Canes made the key plays down the stretch of that game to secure a 58-54 victory and lock up a berth in the state championship game.

New Castle played with the lead for the majority of the game, leading by as many as 13 points (45-32) with just under seven minutes left in the game. Abington didn't cut into the deficit too much in the next few minutes and still trailed 51-40 with 3:08 to play.

However, the Ghosts not only put a scare into the 'Canes, they took the lead at 54-53 with 40 seconds to go. Malik Hooker, who would go on to make quite a name for himself in the NFL as a safety, put on a show as a quarterback in a pivotal spot. Hooker threw a long pass off the inbounds after Abington's score to go up 54-53, sailing three-quarter court to a wide-open Stew Allen for a layup, taking the lead right back.

New Castle would not relinquish that advantage and held on for the four-point victory.

There were many smiles and hugs going around the whole gym that night. New Castle was about to fuel up the charter bus for another long trip, this time, to Chocolate Town.

The seeds were planted for the 2014 run during the 2012-2013 season. Some will say it goes back further than that.

Take a look at the 2012-2013 season. New Castle breezed to a 29-1 overall record and a berth in the state semifinals. The 'Canes made the long journey that night to Williamsport for a matchup with perennial power Lower Merion. Yes, that Lower Merion, of Kobe Bryant fame.

New Castle fought hard that night, backed by a legion of fans that traveled from Lawrence County. Malik Hooker made ESPN's SportsCenter on a thunderous dunk. But, in the end, Lower Merion hung on for a 67-63 decision.

I can remember the dejection felt throughout the team and its fans. They had come so far and got so close, only to be denied. It felt like quite a gut punch.

The 'Canes kept that loss fresh in their memory bank. They knew if they wanted to be the best, they had to beat the best. New Castle coach Ralph Blundo scheduled a road trip to Philadelphia for a midseason rematch with Lower Merion for a Saturday evening tip.

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New Castle faced Lower Merion on Jan. 18, 2014. The 'Canes continued to grow as a team. They bonded on the long road trip. Took many photos. Ran up the famous steps that Rocky once did.

Oh, and by the way, the 'Canes boarded the bus for home with a 62-59 victory. All signs started to point that this was shaping up to be a special season.

Thirty-two minutes was all that stood between New Castle and the program's first state championship. That and La Salle College.

And the 'Canes were not to be denied. They took the lead for good in the third quarter and pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 13-point victory.

There were two sets of father-son duos on the team, in Anthony Richards and assistant coach David Richards, as well as Robert Natale and assistant coach Bob Natale.

Have you been following New Castle's boys team lately? Sure you have. Then you recognize No. 4, Ralphie Blundo — Ralph's son — who just completed his junior season for the 'Canes. Ralphie was around the program every step of the way back in 2014, learning from the best, both players and coaches.

The clock was running down at the GIANT Center that night, capping off the perfect storm, a 31-0 season. Anthony Richards went over to his dad, motioning for a hug. His dad David finally obliged and the two embraced. The mission was complete. Gold was secured. The big gold ball was coming home to Lawrence County, as well as a big Hershey chocolate bar.

Drew Allen and Malik Hooker shared team-high scoring honors with 13 points each. Drew's brother Stew Allen contributed eight points

Drew Allen hoisted the trophy high for all to see in the medal ceremony. Stew Allen had a souvenir as well — a giant Hershey bar.

The crowd was announced at 6,641, with an estimated 5,000 of them rooting for New Castle. To look around the GIANT Center you would have thought there were 30,000 people in there, all supporting the 'Canes.

Coach Blundo has been extremely accommodating over the years to The News sports staff, like granting behind-the-scenes access in the locker room before and after games. I was privileged to be along for most of that state championship season, and I was in the locker room with the team immediately after that win.

"Gentlemen, when we ended practice yesterday and the six seniors spoke a little bit ... I saw in your eyes exactly what I wanted to see. And it wasn't the eye of the tiger or anything like that. That's what you'd assume," Blundo said to his team in the locker room right after the state championship win. "I saw young men being exactly who I wanted them to become. And it was emotional for me. Because as I've told you over four years, we just kept becoming better young men. Then along the line, we just kept winning basketball games. And then something crazy happened. We won a state championship."

That direct quote appeared in The News in the game story and I witnessed Blundo say those words to his team. Every individual was focused on Blundo's every word and movement. Which is a common theme to this day, regardless of what stage of the season it is.

As soon as he said the phrase "we won a state championship", there was a mighty roar in the locker room filled with clapping and smiles from ear to ear.

Hershey may have been the final destination for the 2013-2014 team to wrap up the school's first PIAA basketball title. But, it's the journey that makes any season, including that one, so special.


They are priceless. They will last a lifetime. And just like the state championship win, they will last forever.

(Ron Poniewasz Jr. is the New Castle News sports editor. He covered many of the New Castle High boys basketball team's 31 games in the 2013-2014 season. Email him at