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Hempfield boys to speed it up again

| Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, 8:30 p.m.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Zak Mesich takes a shot during practice at Hempfield High School on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Parker Lucas prepares to shoot a free throw during practice at Hempfield High School on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Josh McCoy takes a shot during practice at Hempfield High School on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Head coach Bill Swan makes a point with his team during practice at Hempfield High School on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Braden Brose takes a shot during practice at Hempfield High School on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Clark Pederson takes a shot during practice at Hempfield High School on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Zach Queen shoots a free throw during practice at Hempfield High School on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016.
Ken Reabe Jr. | For The Tribune-Review
Zak Mesich brings the ball into the forecourt during practice at Hempfield High School on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016.

Hempfield has been a plodding boys basketball team in past years, taking time to set up plays and let offense develop in the half court. But the team opened things up last season, greeting opponents with a rapid-fire approach from the 3-point line.

The net-ripping style allowed Hempfield to make 20 of 25 3-pointers in one game: a 90-72 win over Albert Gallatin, one of several games in which the Spartans made 10 or more shots from behind the arc.

Coach Bill Swan is letting the Spartans cut it loose again.

After putting in a dribble-drive offense last season, Swan hopes the uptempo scheme is more refined now as the team looks to improve on an 8-15 record.

Hempfield plans to spread the floor, play faster and fire away as it moves up to the new 6A classification.

“We're going to rely on our shooting from the perimeter,” said Swan, who guided the Spartans to a 21-4 mark in 2014-15. “I know when you play this way and shooting doesn't go your way, it can be a struggle. But you can't accept the fact that if you don't shoot well, you'll lose.

“You have to have shooters, and we think we do. You're living a lie if everybody can't shoot.”

Hempfield lost to Chartiers Valley in the WPIAL first round last season. Chartiers Valley is now in 5A.

Swan said he has seen the advantages of the dribble-drive by watching Latrobe use it against his team in section games. Latrobe is the No. 2-ranked team in 6A and will once again face Hempfield — in Section 3.

“We've learned a lot watching Latrobe,” Swan said. “What they've done has been neat. They push the flow and play in the open floor.”

Teams that use that offense tend to make tweaks to it despite its run-and-gun appearance. Swan said the Spartans continue to get comfortable with it.

“We're all learning a lot right now,” he said. “Every day is a classroom for me. Every day, a kid does something in practice and you say, ‘Hurry up and write that down.' ”

Guard-oriented Hempfield will lean on four returning starters in seniors Parker Lucas, Zach Queen, Clark Pederson and junior Braden Brose, who provides size at 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds.

All of them are shooters.

Queen averaged 8.1 points and hit 54 3-pointers in 23 games last season. Brose played 17 games but averaged 8.3 points and Lucas, the point guard, scored 7.0 per game.

A pair of other returnees started several games. They are Zak Mesich, a senior who hit 53 shots from 3-point range last season and scored 7.9 a game, and sophomore Reed Hipps.

“With Queen and Mesich, there aren't a ton that shoot it better than them,” said Swan, who's in the third season in his second stint with Hempfield. He led the Spartans from 2001-09 and posted a 117-76 record with three section titles.

Two newcomers looking to make an impact for Hempfield include junior Justin Sliwoski, who was the quarterback of the football team, and senior Josh McCoy. Ed Diorio is one of the team's six seniors.

Hempfield gets four new opponents in Section 3: Fox Chapel, Penn Hills, Plum and Woodland Hills. Hempfield lost to Fox Chapel two years ago in the Quad-A quarterfinals.

Those four teams come from a section that thrived on half-court basketball and physical play, the antithesis of the fast-paced style.

“We'll do our best to be great,” Swan said. “If we make the playoffs we'll have a heck of a party.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com.

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