No. 1 Quaker Valley tops No. 2 New Castle, bolsters stock as WPIAL favorite
By: Chris Harlan
Friday, January 4, 2019 | 10:33 PM
This matchup with New Castle wasn’t at Petersen Events Center or for the WPIAL title, but the win was important for Quaker Valley nonetheless.
“This is one of the games we’ve been looking forward to this whole season,” said senior Ryan Stowers, whose 33 points carried Quaker Valley to a 67-48 victory Friday night at New Castle. “Last year we lost to them in a heartbreaking loss in the WPIAL championship. We just put that behind us and … made a statement that we’re not the same team as last year.”
The win bolsters top-ranked Quaker Valley’s status as the early favorite in Section 2 and WPIAL Class 4A overall. New Castle (7-2, 2-1) is ranked second. But when the section rivals met last March in the WPIAL finals, New Castle pulled the upset and won 57-52.
“We all hate to lose,” Stowers said. “We had a perfect season up until then and we lose that game. So, yeah, that definitely had something to do with today.”
Stowers’ determination showed.
The 6-foot-5 guard is a 41-percent shooter from 3-point range, but instead he scored almost all of his points Friday around the rim including a breakaway dunk in the final seconds. He missed his one 3-point attempt, but finished 13 for 23 from the field.
“He’s probably one of the best 3-point shooters WPIAL-wise,” Quaker Valley coach Mike Mastroianni said, “but he plays like a senior. When you’re older, you get to the rim. When the rim presents itself, you take the rim, and Ryan’s doing that much better.”
Dan Conlan added 13 points for Quaker Valley (9-0, 2-0), and freshman Adou Thiero had 10.
Mike Wells led New Castle with 14 points, and Sheldon Cox added 10.
“We would have loved to play better basketball tonight but credit Quaker Valley,” New Castle coach Ralph Blundo said. “They have probably the top two players in (Class) 4A on one team returning with great experience. So I’d say the expectation for them should be high.”
Quaker Valley seized control with a strong second half.
The Quakers led 33-29 at half after two late layups by Stowers, and then outscored New Castle 19-6 in the third quarter. QV changed defenses from a 3-2 zone to a 2-3 — to protect the paint — and watched New Castle’s shooters make just 2 of 16 shots in the quarter.
“They were getting a lot of boards and getting to the hoop a lot in the first half, so we sagged off more and let them shoot,” Stowers said. “They weren’t hitting shots today.”
In all, New Castle made only 5 of 35 attempts from the 3-point arc.
New Castle’s misses sparked Quaker Valley’s transition offense. Stowers scored 10 points in the third and pushed the Quakers’ lead to 14 points with consecutive layups midway through the quarter — the second basket on an alley oop from Thiero.
A 13-3 run gave the Quakers a 46-32 lead.
“I don’t think that our guys responded with the type of fight at that point that we’re accustomed to,” Blundo said. “I have to look at myself and say, ‘OK, why weren’t we better coming out in the third quarter?’ We just gave them too many easy ones. I didn’t like our response, but this is a very young group.”
New Castle graduated its top seven players from last year’s championship lineup. The Red Hurricanes leaned heavily at times Friday on two freshmen and a sophomore.
The teams were tied 15-15 after one quarter and New Castle led 28-27 with 1:20 left in the first half. But from that point, Quaker Valley outscored New Castle, 40-20.
“I thought we were a little anxious early in the game,” Mastroianni said. “Coming up on New Castle’s court is a new experience for some of our starters, but I thought we settled in pretty well.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.