The Hurricanes held off Franklin Regional in a postseason opener.
AMBRIDGE, Pa. -- The New Castle High girls basketball team would like nothing more than to successfully defend the WPIAL-AAAA title it won a year ago.
Saturday, the Hurricanes took the first step in accomplishing that mission by defeating Franklin Regional 48-41 in an opening-round game.
"I thought we gave up way too many points in the first half, but the defense picked us up in the second half," New Castle coach LuAnn Grybowski said. "The first game in this tournament is always the toughest. Last year we played a team that wasn't very good in the first game and we struggled. I thought [Franklin Regional] was a good team, and we still struggled."
In the first four minutes of the second period, the Hurricanes stepped up the tempo on defense and rattled off nine unanswered points for a 23-14 lead. However, just that quickly, Jalessa Sams and Natalie Wallace both picked up their second fouls, and as they sat on the bench, the Panthers answered with an 11-0 run and led 25-24 at the intermission.
"I sensed it and I saw it coming, but I knew we just had to hang on," said Grybowski of Franklin Regional's rally. "I thought if we were even at halftime or even down a couple of points, I wasn't going to worry about it because for some reason, [New Castle] plays better when they are behind coming out in the second half. Every other game this season when we had a big lead at halftime, we let it get away from us in the third quarter, but the way it was today, I really wasn't worried about it."
The Hurricanes, sparked by a pair of 3-pointers from Kara Joseph, came out strong in the third period, scoring eight consecutive points to lead 32-25. But again, the Panthers came back, trailing 38-36 entering the final quarter.
New Castle stepped up its defense again, scoring most of its points in transition over the last eight minutes.
"This was the best that we probably did that all year," Grybowski said. "We got some nice baskets and good finishes on layups. I thought the kids really pushed the ball up the floor well and that was one of our keys.
"Two other things were that we stopped their penetration as the game went on and we didn't give up any 3s. The key to this game was defense."
Senior takes charge
With New Castle leading 40-39, the only senior on the squad, Natalie Wallace, took charge. She scored all six of her points on three consecutive possessions.
"I knew once they went to the halfcourt trap [defense], we would have to spread it out a little bit," Grybowski said. "That is a little offense where we put [Sams] at the post, knowing they are going to double[-team] her if they get the chance. A couple of times, we had guard penetration and that allowed us to kick the ball down to Wallace on the block. I just told her in the locker room that she stepped up big late in the game, and she couldn't have picked a better time to do it."