HERSHEY, Pa. - La Salle's impressive and surprising run at its first state basketball championship finally ended.
With considerable athleticism and toughness, much of it gained on the gridiron, New Castle completed a perfect season by beating the Explorers, 52-39, Saturday night in the PIAA Class AAAA boys' final at the Giant Center.
"I don't know if it was the difference in the game, but we certainly got bullied at times," La Salle coach Joe Dempsey said.
The Hurricanes, whose starting lineup featured four senior starters with football scholarships, went 31-0 en route to their first title. They reached the semifinals last season before losing to eventual champ Lower Merion.
"Hats off to them," Dempsey said. "They ran the table, and I certainly understand why. It was a team of destiny."
Malik Hooker, a dynamic wing guard who will play defensive back at Ohio State, sparked New Castle with 13 points, four assists, three steals, and two blocked shots. New Castle is 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh.
Point guard Najee Walls paced the Explorers (23-7) with 15 points. Fellow junior Shawn Witherspoon was next with 10.
La Salle won five straight games, including a District 12 playoff qualifier vs. Central, after losing to Roman Catholic in the Catholic League semifinals.
"This is awesome that we could even get here," Explorers junior center Dave Krmpotich said. "We didn't expect this."
Jake McPhatter (Ball State recruit for football), Drew Allen (Robert Morris), and Stew Allen (Duquesne) combined for 30 points. The Hurricanes shot 16 for 27 from the free-throw line.
In the third quarter, New Castle used a 7-0 run, capped by McPhatter's three-pointer and Drew Allen's fastbreak layup, to go ahead, 26-20. An inside bucket from reserve Levar Ware and Hooker's driving layup put New Castle in front, 30-24, entering the fourth stanza.
The contest was tied at 16 at intermission. La Salle, which shot 6 for 18 from the field (0 for 4 from beyond the arc) in the first half, was led by Walls' six points in the first two periods.
New Castle also struggled with its marksmanship, going 7 for 22 from the floor (0 for 5 on treys) in the half. Stew and Drew Allen each scored six points.
The Explorers took their first lead (13-12) of the night on two free throws by Walls with a little less than five minutes to play in the second quarter.
After Drew Allen's driving layup put the Hurricanes in front, Krmpotich answered for La Salle with a field goal from the lane. At the end of the half, Shawn Witherspoon hit 1 of 2 free throws to even things.
New Castle 10 6 14 22 - 52
La Salle 9 7 8 15 - 39
NC: Malik Hooker 13, Anthony Richards 4, Jake McPhatter 9, Drew Allen 13, Stew Allen 8, Levar Ware 5.
LS: Najee Walls 15, Chuck Champion 2, Dave Krmpotich 8, Shawn Witherspoon 10, Sean Greenberg 2, Shane Stark 2.