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PIAA Boys' Basketball: New Castle towers in quarterfinal win

DeMonaco sparks 60-44 win vs. Mt. Lebanon

Sunday, March 17, 2002

By Mike White, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

New Castle's roster lists Mark DeMonaco at 5 feet 9. New Castle Coach John Sarandrea laughs at the height, saying DeMonaco is 5-6. DeMonaco insists he's 5-7.

But they're all wrong. For New Castle, DeMonaco is on the gigantic side.

DeMonaco, New Castle's fiery senior point guard, has been a key to the Hurricanes' successful season. Yesterday, he was the big little man again as New Castle beat Mt. Lebanon, 60-44, in a PIAA quarterfinal at Robert Morris.

DeMonaco had five 3-pointers and scored a game-high 21 points. His energy put a charge in New Castle (30-1) and helped the Hurricanes reach the semifinals for the third time in five seasons. The last time was 1999, when they were upset by Erie McDowell.

This time, New Castle will have another showdown with Uniontown, which defeated Erie Cathedral Prep, 48-45, in another quarterfinal yesterday at Slippery Rock. Uniontown beat New Castle in the WPIAL championship, and it is the only loss of the season for New Castle. Uniontown is 29-1.

"We do feed off his energy," Sarandrea said of DeMonaco. "He's going to be nearly impossible to replace next year. Maybe I won't let him graduate. I'm the principal, so I can control that."

Mt. Lebanon (20-10) couldn't control DeMonaco in the first half as he made four 3-pointers and scored 16 points.

"DeMonaco might be 5-6 on a good day," Sarandrea said. "But he's 6-10 heart-wise."

DeMonaco is absolutely thrilled to be still playing basketball in March. He transferred to New Castle from Shenango before his junior year. Shenango was 8-16 this season. His departure was a "big" loss for Shenango and a "big" gain for New Castle as he has turned into the eye of the Hurricanes.

"We don't get up sometimes for games," DeMonaco said. "I have to yell at them and be a leader."

DeMonaco's shooting hurt Mt. Lebanon's 1-3-1 zone defense in the first half, but so did New Castle's defense, which forced 11 Blue Devils turnovers in the first two quarters. Mt. Lebanon shot 33 percent (5 for 15) from the field in the first half.

"Our game plan was to be patient on offense," Mt. Lebanon Coach Joe David said. "But we come out, make one pass and launch a shot, make one pass and launch. That's not what we had practiced.

"We were capable of beating this team, but we had to keep it close early. If we get to the third and fourth quarter and it's a six-point game, I think we would have had the advantage because we had nothing to lose in this game."

Mt. Lebanon trailed, 10-7, after Max Jones' three-point play with 1:54 left in the first quarter. But Mt. Lebanon did not have a basket for the next eight minutes. During that span, New Castle outscored the Blue Devils, 16-1, to take control of the game.

DeMonaco had two 3-pointers in the run and Hoover Gibson had eight points. Gibson, a 6-4 senior center, finished with 12 points. Senior forward Dom Joseph had 14.

"DeMonaco's effort was outstanding, especially early in the game when we had to establish that their zone wasn't going to beat us," Sarandrea said.

New Castle led at halftime, 29-13. Mt. Lebanon cut the deficit to 11 with 4:50 left in the third quarter but never got any closer.

Jones, a senior forward, led Mt. Lebanon with 16 points. Senior forward Chris Pinch added 14 and senior guard Dan Elzer 10.

"Every time they made a little push at us, we got something off our press," Sarandrea said. "If we were just a man-to-man team that played half-court defense, we wouldn't be 30-1 right now. We'd get punched a few times during the season."

It was the second time New Castle beat Mt. Lebanon this season. The Hurricanes won at Mt. Lebanon, 88-58, in January.

"We played our best game of the season down there," Sarandrea said. "We had 13 3-pointers in the game. I knew we weren't going to duplicate that effort."

Now, New Castle can concentrate on playing Uniontown again. The winner goes to the championship game Saturday in Hershey.

"I think it would add more value to making it to Hershey if we were able to beat them," Sarandrea said.

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