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PIAA Boys' Basketball: Uniontown heads to Hershey after dumping New Castle, 65-47

Thursday, March 21, 2002

By Mike White, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Uniontown was sluggish in its past two PIAA playoff games, winning by a total of six points. But when Coach Dave Shuck looked into his players' faces before the semifinal last night, he thought the Raiders might come out slugging.

Uniontown senior Terrance Vaughns and his teammates dance in the locker room after knocking off New Castle to punch their ticket to the PIAA Class AAAA final in Hershey. (Franka Bruns, Post-Gazette)

Shuck noticed his players were unusually quiet, and no noise was good news for Uniontown.

"I can pretty much tell before a game how they're going to play," Shuck said. "Tonight, they were quiet. They all had their game faces on."

Afterward, the Red Raiders' faces were covered in chocolate -- from Hershey's Kisses. That was the dessert for Uniontown after it ate up New Castle, 65-47, in a PIAA Class AAAA semifinal at Palumbo Center.

The win puts the Raiders (30-1) into the championship game Saturday night at Hersheypark Arena against Harrisburg (30-3), which defeated Lancaster McCaskey, in the other semifinal.

The Palumbo floor was polluted with Hershey's Kisses after the game, and Uniontown's players ate some of the candy while celebrating on the court.

It was a sweet victory for Uniontown, but somewhat of a surprising one. It was hard to believe these were the same two teams that met in the WPIAL final a few weeks ago. Uniontown won that contest by only 60-57. It was also hard to believe that this was the same Uniontown team that struggled against Erie Cathedral Prep and Central Catholic in the previous two rounds.

"I think you saw the real Uniontown team tonight," Shuck said.

Uniontown's Brandon Duncan drives to the basket in front of New Castle's Leon Ward. Duncan scored 10 points. (Franka Bruns, Post-Gazette)

Uniontown led by 14 points after the first quarter and 21 at halftime. New Castle never got within double figures the rest of the way.

Uniontown had four players in double figures. Guard Dierre Jenkins led with 16, guard Terrance Vaughns 12, forward Chris Jacobs 10 and guard Brandon Duncan came off the bench to score 10.

"We had a great year," said New Castle Coach John Sarandrea, whose team finished 30-2. "We lost two games, both to the same team. I don't think we have to apologize for that. Plain and simple, we lost to a better team both times."

This time, though, Uniontown was much better, and defense was the main reason. Uniontown's sticky man-to-man defense shut down a New Castle team that was averaging 72 points for the season.

"We're very capable of playing this kind of basketball," Shuck said. "We finally put one of these games together."

Uniontown was awfully impressive in the first half, limiting New Castle to 11 points. New Castle trailed at halftime, 32-11.

"We knew they presented problems to us that no one else had this year," said Sarandrea. "And that was the ability to choke you defensively."

But why the vast difference between the two games with Uniontown this year?

"To be honest, I thought the first game we should've beaten them by this much," Shuck said. "We had a 12- or 13-point lead and just got careless."

This time, senior forward Dom Joseph led New Castle with 15 points and senior center Hoover Gibson had 14 and 11 rebounds. But Joseph scored only five points in the first half. Point guard Mark DeMonaco, the team's second-leading scorer, did not have a field goal the entire game and finished with only three points. David Winfrey, Jenkins and Vaughns all guarded DeMonaco

"He's their leader," Vaughns said. "We knew if we took out their leader, it was like taking off the head of a snake."

New Castle tried a different defensive strategy against Uniontown, playing a 2-3 zone to start the game.

"That's the first time we've played it this year," Sarandrea said.

But Jenkins made a 3-pointer 18 seconds into the game to get Uniontown rolling. Vaughns hit two 3-pointers in the next few minutes to put Uniontown ahead, 11-3. The Raiders made seven of their first 11 shots and outscored the Hurricanes, 11-3, in the final 3:30 of the quarter. Uniontown had a 26-8 lead three minutes into the second quarter and the rout was on.

"We came out on a mission tonight," Vaughns said. "We wanted this for our coaches, our fans and a lot for ourselves."

Many of Uniontown's seniors were also on the squad two years ago that lost in the PIAA title game.

"I said at the beginning of the year that our goal was to not just win the section or the WPIAL," Shuck said. "I was a little greedy. I said I wanted to win it all this year."

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