New Castle broke out new T-shirts in the locker room. "WPIAL Champions" were printed in large letters on the front.
But the old ones from the past two years would've fit, too.
Another win, another title, another chapter for New Castle in the history books. That's what all came together Saturday night before a sellout crowd at Duquesne University's Palumbo Center as New Castle defeated Hampton, 55-49, in the WPIAL Class AAAA championship.
New Castle 55, Hampton 49
New Castle defeats Hampton 55-49 for the WPIAL boys AAAA title. (Video by Andrew Rush; 3/1/14)
New Castle's leading scorer, Malik Hooker, was held to a season low of six points, but the Allen brothers, who will play college football next season, gave New Castle one big basketball lift with a combined 32 points. Center Stew Allen had 18 and guard Drew Allen 14, and they helped bring New Castle back from an early 11-point deficit.
With the win, New Castle (26-0) became only the eighth team in WPIAL history to win three consecutive championships. The first title was in Class AAA in 2012 and the past two in AAAA. The Red Hurricanes also won the title with an undefeated record for the third consecutive season. A year ago, they became the first team in more than 100 years of the league to win two titles in a row with an undefeated record. On top of all that, New Castle ran its winning streak in WPIAL games to 78.
This three-year run is almost surreal. After the game, New Castle coach Ralph Blundo addressed his team in the locker room and said with emotion, "This is a lifetime achievement."
"I'd love to put this in some kind of perspective but I can't," Blundo said later to the media. "I played sports my whole life. I know how hard it is to win 78 consecutive WPIAL games and three consecutive championships. All I can say is it's extraordinary ... unique ... I don't know other adjectives to have for these kids."
The game took on historic proportions before it even started. It was the third consecutive season the two teams met in a championship, which had never happened in WPIAL history.
People started lining up in front of Palumbo at 2:30 p.m. to buy a few hundred tickets that went on sale at 6.
"I thought the Lakers were playing," New Castle senior guard Anthony Richards said.
It was a tremendous atmosphere inside Palumbo. The game even brought out Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Duquesne coach Jim Ferry watched from courtside. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon flew back from a game at Notre Dame and arrived just before halftime.
They, along with a sea of red-and-black-clad New Castle fans, watched New Castle (26-0) beat Hampton (22-4) for the seventh time in three seasons. Hampton's Ryan Luther, a 6-8 guard-forward and a Pitt recruit, scored a game-high 21 points.
Hooker, who averages 23, was only 3 of 10 from the field and Richards, the team's second-leading scorer, was held to seven points.
But the brutish Stew Allen, who will play football at Duquesne next year, bulled his way inside, making 7 of 11 shots. His brother, Drew, who will play football at Robert Morris, was 6 of 11 from the field and made two 3-pointers.
"I thought Malik still defended and rebounded tremendously," Blundo said. "Stew had the ability to catch and finish. That's all he had to do. That sounds easy except when you have to do it against 6-8 Ryan Luther."
Hampton couldn't have asked for a much better start to the game. David Huber scored six early points to help the Talbots take a 13-2 lead with 3:57 left in the first quarter. But Stew Allen's eight first-quarter points brought the Red Hurricanes within 17-16 after the first eight minutes.
New Castle went on an 11-0 run to take a 27-20 second-quarter lead and New Castle hit three 3-pointers in the run.
Richards pulled off a nifty play to give New Castle a 31-26 lead at halftime. With one second left in the half, Richards took the ball out of bounds underneath the New Castle basket. Hampton put two defenders in the lane to guard against a lob to Hooker. Richards threw the ball off the back side of a Hampton defender, stepped inbounds, grabbed the ball and laid it in just before the buzzer.
New Castle led by as many as 10 in the third quarter. Hampton closed to within three points early in the fourth, but Stew Allen scored on the inside and Hooker had a breakaway dunk to put the Red Hurricanes up seven. Hampton couldn't get closer than five the rest of the way.
Hampton was hurt by poor free-throw shooting as the Talbots were 5 of 16 from the line.
"It's certainly frustrating. That entire locker room is frustrated," Hampton coach Joe Lafko said. "They know what it tastes like to have silver [medals] again. New Castle just made a few more plays."
For more on high school sports, go to Varsity Blog at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh. First Published March 1, 2014 9:06 PM