New Castle tops Quaker Valley in WPIAL 4A final for 3rd consecutive year

Saturday, March 2, 2019 | 2:47 PM

New Castle just wouldn’t be denied its 13th WPIAL boys basketball title.

The Red Hurricanes, down by 10 late in the third quarter and with their vaunted 3-point shooting ability seemingly vanished, took over the fourth quarter and defeated Quaker Valley, 60-54, in the Class 4A championship game at Petersen Events Center.

New Castle finished the game on a 17-4 run.

It was the third consecutive season the Red Hurricanes (21-4) have defeated the Quakers (20-4) for WPIAL honors.

Both teams open PIAA tournament play Friday as New Castle will face Titusville, and Quaker Valley will play District 9 champion Clearfield.

Quaker Valley led 41-31 after a basket by Ryan Stowers with 1 minute, 52 seconds left in the third period and 43-34 at the end of three periods.

“I really thought it was close to getting away from us,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “I was thinking we have to get the next bucket at that time. If we’d go down by 12 or 13, they could space the floor a bit and it would be really hard. That was probably the pivotal point of the game.”

The Red Hurricanes hit just 2 of their first 13 3-point attempts in the second half, then hit three straight down the stretch.

“They’re New Castle,” Quakers coach Mike Mastroianni said. “They created extra possessions. We had them in a good spot. They really weren’t shooting the ball well, and then they hit back-to-back threes and they were really confident.”

After a Quakers turnover on a midcourt trap, freshman Michael Graham canned a 3-pointer to cut the Quaker Valley lead to 50-49 with 2:46 to go. After a pair of Stowers free throws, Drew Cox hit a trey to tie the score.

For New Castle’s three senior starters — Cox, Payne Prowell and Donte Burnett — this year’s gold medals meant more than the previous two because this was their first year as starters.

“It’s good to know that I got one,” Cox said. “No one can take that away from us for the rest of our lives. I was out there 32 minutes for this one.”

Said Blundo: “It hasn’t been easy for those guys. They kept grinding. They stayed the course. Now they have one (medal) to call their own.”

For Blundo, it was the sixth championship in the last nine seasons.

“We told our guys before the fourth quarter that they’ll go press on our offense, that they’re coming the rest of the game,” Mastroianni said. “Our motto with them is that their defense plays better as the game goes on. Sometimes they play their best when they’re behind.”

It was a bittersweet 31-point performance for Stowers, who scored all 11 Quakers points in the fourth quarter.

“We have to realize that this game’s over with, and it’s behind us,” Stowers said. “Let’s focus on the next game.”

Said Mastroianni: “For some reason, we haven’t figured out this first Saturday of March.”

Indeed, the Quakers have recovered from their WPIAL losses to go to the PIAA semifinals the last two seasons, losing to Sharon last year and to Strong Vincent in 2017.

Stowers had 17 rebounds to go with his 31 points.

Drew Cox led the Red Hurricanes with 20 points, and his sophomore brother, Sheldon, had 15.

Wells added 14 and led with seven rebounds. He had 10 of those 14 in the final period.

Quaker Valley outrebounded New Castle, 32-22.

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