Only minutes after the WPIAL Class AAA championship game Friday night, the New Castle players scrambled to put on T-shirts that read "New Castle" on the front and "26-0" on the back.
They fit perfectly.
New Castle was held to its lowest point total of the season by far, but there was no keeping New Castle from the record books. New Castle defeated Hampton, 57-44, to win the WPIAL Class AAA championship at Duquesne University's A.J. Palumbo Center.
New Castle became only the 11th team in the past 50 years to win a WPIAL title with a perfect record. The previous team to do it was Blackhawk in 2000. Blackhawk's coach, John Miller, watched the game from the first row of seats.
"This has nothing to do with me. I'm just happy for these kids because this is something they can keep with them the rest of their lives," said Ralph Blundo, New Castle's second-year coach. "They're a special, special group of kids."
New Castle's previous lowest offensive output was 68 points, but Hampton's size advantage and zone defenses dictated a slower pace. New Castle (26-0), though, proved it can win a methodical game, too. The Red Hurricanes used their quickness, ballhandling and excellent passing ability to get inside Hampton's zones for inside baskets all game. New Castle had only six turnovers.
"New Castle is a very good basketball team," Hampton coach Joe Lafko said. "They have exceptional quickness, they have good perimeter shooting, they're able to attack it inside. They had an answer for everything that we did."
Shawn Anderson, a 6-foot-3 junior forward, led New Castle with 24 points and eight rebounds. He made 9 of 14 shots and 6 of 6 from the free-throw line. Senior forward Corey Eggleston added 13 points. Ryan Luther, a sophomore guard-forward, led Hampton with 14 points and senior center Mark Pilarski had 12.
Hampton (22-4) outrebounded New Castle, 35-24, but New Castle shot 50 percent (22 of 44) from the field. Hampton made only 34 percent (18 of 53). New Castle, a team that can sometimes rely heavily on 3-point shooting, made only four 3-pointers.
"We knew we had to get inside their zone," Blundo said, "because if this turns into us casting 3-pointers all night, you know how that can go."
New Castle got rolling late in the second quarter and sixth man Antonio Rudolph fueled the charge. With Hampton leading, 10-7, Rudolph scored a basket and added a three-point play. Anderson scored with three seconds left in the quarter to put New Castle ahead, 14-10.
Things got no better for Hampton in the second quarter. Hoping to control the pace of the game, Hampton had some turnovers and couldn't stop New Castle's penetration to the basket. Anderson found his way inside for eight points in the second quarter and finished the half with 12. Rudolph had a steal and an impressive dunk in the second quarter.
Rudolph, a 6-1 junior guard-forward, finished with nine points.
"The first half, he played unbelievable," Blundo said of Rudolph. "But the last four games, he's been doing this."
New Castle led at halftime, 30-17, as Hampton shot only 27 percent (7 of 26) from the field while New Castle shot 54 percent (14 of 26).
A 3-pointer by Brandon Domenick gave New Castle a 35-20 lead early in the third quarter and Hampton got no closer than 10 points the rest of the way.
"I thought the score was down to where it was manageable for us," Lafko said. "If we'd have knocked down a few more baskets and had a little closer score at halftime, with a run, we probably would have been able to make something happen in the fourth quarter."
For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog . Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1975. Twitter @mwhiteburgh First Published March 3, 2012 5:00 AM