For 104 years, the WPIAL has been crowning champions in high school basketball. Never has a team come through the title games that wore the crown so perfectly as New Castle.
New Castle can now lay claim to the greatest two-year run in the history of the WPIAL -- and there would be no arguments. At least not after New Castle used a record-breaking shooting performance to defeat Hampton, 68-53, to win the Class AAAA championship Saturday night in front of a sellout crowd at Palumbo Center.
The win gave New Castle a 26-0 record. A year ago, the Red Hurricanes won the Class AAA championship also with a 26-0 record. New Castle is the first team in the history of WPIAL basketball to win back-to-back titles with a perfect record.
New Castle 68, Hampton 53
New Castle takes on Hampton in high school basketball action. (Video by Justin K. Aller; 3/2/2013)
No matter what happens in the PIAA playoffs, New Castle will live in WPIAL infamy because of its perfection (the Red Hurricanes lost in the PIAA playoffs a year ago).
"I was fortunate enough that my parents used to bring me to New Castle games when I was a little kid," said Anthony Richards, a junior guard for New Castle. "As a little kid in New Castle, this is what you dream of, something like this. To get it done the way we did is absolutely amazing."
When New Castle coach Ralph Blundo was asked what he was going to do to celebrate, he said, "Go back to New Castle and eat. That's what we do in New Castle."
The basketball team is full after having another WPIAL opponent for lunch.
"To go from [Class AAA] to [AAAA] and do the exact same thing speaks volumes of the players I have," Blundo said. "I think that's what it says more than anything. We have players."
The Red Hurricanes' storm that hit Palumbo this year was raining 3-pointers. New Castle set a Class AAAA championship record with 12 3-pointers, breaking the old record of eight. New Castle was only one 3-pointer away from the WPIAL championship record for all classifications of 13.
Six New Castle players made 3-pointers. Richards had four and Antonio Rudolph three. As a team, New Castle made 12 of 22 3-pointers while Hampton was only 4 of 18.
Senior forward Shawn Anderson led New Castle with 16 points. Rudolph added 15, Richards 12, and Malik Hooker 11 and nine rebounds.
Ryan Luther, a 6-8 junior forward, was the only Hampton player in double figures with 17, and he also had nine rebounds.
It didn't matter if Hampton (21-5) was playing a 1-2-2 zone or man-to-man defense, New Castle found openings to make 3-pointers. Hampton was the only team to give New Castle a game this season, losing to the Red Hurricanes by only four points in early February. New Castle defeated every other opponent by at least 16 points.
But New Castle's shooting turned this Hampton game into a rout, too. New Castle led, 65-39, at one point.
"You have to be on top of your game in all areas [to have a chance to beat them]," Hampton coach Joe Lafko said. "If not, they will exploit you."
In the first half, things were going fairly well for Hampton. The Talbots didn't let the pace of the game get too fast and they were doing enough offensively to stay close. Luther's 3-pointer brought Hampton within 16-15 early in the second quarter.
Then came one of those New Castle runs that have flattened many teams this season. Sometimes the runs come from the Red Hurricanes' pressure defense. Sometimes they come from excellent execution in half-court offense. This run came from 3-pointers -- five of them in a three-minute span. In a span of 1:20, Richards hit three 3-pointers. His third of the quarter -- and fourth of the half -- gave New Castle a 25-18 lead. He made a few of the 3-pointers with defenders in his face.
Then Brandon Domenick hit a 3-pointer 40 seconds later -- and Anderson a minute later. Suddenly it was 31-20 New Castle. The Red Hurricanes' biggest lead of the half was 34-20 and they took a 36-22 advantage into the break.
"That [3-point shooting] had to happen because Hampton is so long inside and we had to extend them out on defense," Blundo said. "The residual effect of those 3-pointers was pretty good.
"I thought we did a better job against their zone this time, but it always appears like you do a better job when you make 3s."
Hampton never made a run at New Castle in the second half.
Both teams will play in the PIAA playoffs Saturday. New Castle will play Gateway. They played in the WPIAL quarterfinals two weeks ago. Hampton will play Perry, the Class AAAA No. 1 seed from the City League.
First Published March 3, 2013 5:00 AM