New Castle-Hampton game is a hot ticket

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The toughest ticket in town this weekend might be for a high school basketball game.

New Castle plays Hampton at 7 p.m. today for the WPIAL Class AAAA boys championship at Palumbo Center, in what truly is a game for the ages. In 102 years of WPIAL title games, this is the first time the same teams have met for the championship three consecutive years. The fan interest for this one is at a higher level than any WPIAL final in recent history.

In short, the game is expected to be sold out. The WPIAL is “saving” around 300-400 tickets that will be sold to the public at Palumbo starting at 6 p.m. WPIAL executive director Tim O’Malley said Palumbo officials have told him capacity is a little over 4,000.

This is the 21st year that Palumbo has been the site for WPIAL title games, and O’Malley said “I don’t ever remember a game generating this many tickets sold ahead of time.”

The town of New Castle is “crazy” about the Red Hurricanes. Originally, New Castle was given 1,500 tickets from the WPIAL, and those were sold in a little over an hour Thursday. New Castle athletic director Sam Flora said the WPIAL gave the school 250 more, and they were sold in about 15 minutes Thursday afternoon.

“I’m sitting here in our [athletic] office,” Flora said Friday morning, “with the blinds closed and a big sign outside the office that says ‘sold out.’ There are still people out in the hall standing and asking for tickets.”

Hampton athletic director Bill Cardone said his school sold its allotment of 1,200 tickets by Friday night.

The game is the first of a Class AAAA doubleheader Saturday night. The Hempfield-Penn-Trafford girls game will follow, and those schools were expected to sell 750 tickets. Gates open tonight at 6 at Palumbo.

In other years, the AAAA boys game has been the second game of the doubleheader, but the WPIAL thought it would be better to play the boys game first because of the crowd.

O’Malley knows some people wonder why the WPIAL won’t play at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center or even Consol Energy Center.

“The Petersen Center hasn’t been able to guarantee us the dates in advance, so we haven’t been able to go there,” O’Malley said. “We haven’t looked at Consol, but can they guarantee us dates and could we afford to go there is another thing. Candidly, Palumbo has been good for us. Having a full house is a great experience for these kids.”

The atmosphere in Palumbo tonight is expected to be electric.

“This really is awesome,” Cardone said.

“It’s funny. People come out of the woodwork to get tickets you haven’t seen in a long time. The whole thing is great for the schools, the kids and the communities.”

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