HERSHEY, Pa. -- New Castle's size can't compare with the biggest boys basketball teams in WPIAL history, and the Red Hurricanes aren't blessed with loads of major-college talent. Heck, even their coach has wondered if this team is as good as a year ago.
But the right side of New Castle's record says the Red Hurricanes can now rub elbows with the elite teams in Western Pennsylvania history. There is a seat on the perfect throne for them.
New Castle won the PIAA Class AAAA championship Saturday night at Giant Center with a 52-39 victory against La Salle College High School of Philadelphia.
New Castle caps perfect season with PIAA Class AAAA title
New Castle won the PIAA Class AAAA championship Saturday night at Giant Center with a 52-39 victory against La Salle College High School of Philadelphia. (Video by Andrew Rush; 3/22/2014)
It certainly wasn't a game of beauty as the two teams were deadlocked, 16-16, at halftime. But the history books will say it was a beautiful game for New Castle.
The win gave New Castle the gold championship trophy, but it also made the Red Hurricanes the first team from the WPIAL to go through an entire season undefeated since Sto-Rox in 1983. The PIAA has been staging championships since 1920, and New Castle is only the 12th team from the WPIAL to finish with a perfect record. The Red Hurricanes also are the first WPIAL team in 47 years to finish undefeated in the largest classification. The previous one was Ambridge in 1967.
New Castle finished 31-0.
"We ran into buzz saw. We ran into a team of destiny," La Salle College coach Joe Dempsey said.
As the final seconds ticked away, "We are ... N -- C" rang out loud from the few thousand fans from New Castle who turned part of Giant Center into a sea of red and black. After the game, New Castle coach Ralph Blundo wore a black T-shirt with New Castle on the front. On the back it read "Unconquered -- Undefeated -- Undeniable -- 31-0."
"I told you at the beginning of the year that I thought we were just a good team, if you talk player for player," Blundo said. "But there is something special about guys coming together and caring for one another. The most undervalued traits in all of sports are intangibles. They aren't talked about enough. If you've got tough kids who care about each other, you have pretty good talent and you can create a togetherness amongst one another, then it can be extraordinarily powerful."
New Castle slowly imposed its will in the second half, opening a semi-comfortable lead and keeping La Salle at arm's length the rest of the way.
"It's hard to explain what 31-0 means and the first championship ever at New Castle," New Castle senior guard Anthony Richards said. "It's hard to put into words. I am almost getting emotional talking about it."
Defense was a key for New Castle. The Red Hurricanes didn't trap as much as they usually do. But La Salle College (23-7) had trouble getting open shots against New Castle's man-to-man defense. La Salle shot only 38 percent (15 of 40) from the field.
Malik Hooker, New Castle's all-everything senior guard-forward, scored 13 points. He also grabbed 13 rebounds, dished out 4 assists, blocked 2 shots and had 3 steals. Drew Allen added 13 points.
"This is crazy," Allen said. "To have no bumps in the road and maintaining your focus for 31 games is tough to do."
New Castle's free-throw shooting in the fourth quarter was a key. Although the Red Hurricanes missed a few in the final minute, they made 14 of 22 in the fourth when La Salle desperately was trying to cut into New Castle's lead.
"The game was played exactly how we thought it would be," Blundo said. "We knew their guards were really good and we knew how hard it would be to speed them up. We thought it could turn into a slugfest and we were confident our guys would be able to deal with that."
The third quarter ended with Hooker driving for a left-handed layup just before the buzzer and the Red Hurricanes took a 30-24 advantage into the fourth.
Senior center Levar Ware came off the bench to give New Castle a lift in the second half with a couple of baskets. Jake McPhatter also pumped life into the Red Hurricanes in the second half. He had two 3-pointers in the third quarter and the Red Hurricanes made 6 of 9 shots from the field in the third. McPhatter hit two free throws to put New Castle ahead, 38-29, with 3:54 left.
From there it was a parade to the line. And you can bet there will be a victory parade soon in New Castle. When New Castle's team bus left Friday for Hershey, fire engines escorted the team out of town.
"Maybe a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade," Blundo said.
For more on high school sports, go to "Varsity Blog" at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: email@example.com, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh. First Published March 23, 2014 12:14 AM