Hempfield defense shuts down Kiski Area in section contest
Hempfield's basketball season has been like a Kennywood Park roller coaster ride — a lot of ups and downs and twists and turns.
It's given Spartans coach Jim Nesser sleepless nights and a hoarse voice.
Nesser was able to sleep well last night after his team turned in a solid defensive effort against Kiski Area in a battle for the Section 1-AAAA title.
Sophomores Tony Pilato and Kason Harrell combined for 36 points to lead Hempfield (15-5, 8-3) to a 51-44 victory that put the Spartans in position to tie Kiski Area (15-5, 9-3) for the section title with a win Friday at Latrobe.
Kiski has earned a share of the section.
“To be honest, I so was disappointed in our (Jan. 29) loss at Penn-Trafford, how we played mentally, it bothered me. I haven't slept in seven days,” Nesser said. “But I'm proud of them. I know we're young, but as a group we have high expectations.
“We feel we have a good team. But good teams have to finish, especially on the road. We'll see Friday.”
While the finish of Tuesday's game wasn't perfect, Nesser will take it, especially the win.
“It's a one-game season for us; that's the mindset heading to Latrobe,” Nesser said. “It was just like last year.”
Hempfield used a 17-5 run during the first half to erase a 17-12 deficit. Pilato, the 6-foot-7 power forward, scored 16 of his game high 21 points in the first half as Hempfield grabbed a 29-25 lead at halftime.
Pilato was a matchup problem for Kiski.
“We had some execution issues,” Kiski coach Harry Rideout said. “They played very well and very hard. Being section champs is new for us.
“We didn't execute down the stretch, and Pilato is a stronger finisher. He was efficient. We were forced to play some zone, and we haven't done that for two months.”
Kiski Area didn't shoot well in the second half, and it had 18 turnovers. After making 10 of 18 shots in the first half, Kiski Area was only 8 for 25 in the second half.
“We play much better with the lead,” Rideout said. “They sped us up some. We felt we should have built on our lead, then we had a turnover and a missed layup and they converted. We usually play well through runs like they had.”
Joe Brungo led Kiski Area with 12 points. Adam Robison added 11 and Mitch Murdock 10.
In the second half, Hempfield pushed its lead to 33-25 on baskets by Pilato and Tyler Handlan, and the Spartans led 39-32 heading into the fourth quarter.
Hempfield pushed the lead to 44-34 on a basket by Mike Nauman, who had six assists and a team-high eight rebounds, and it maintained the lead thanks to clutch free throws by Harrell, who scored seven of his 15 points in the fourth quarter.
“The key was getting the ball to Tony early, and it set the tone,” Nesser said. “The second half, they made a few adjustments.
“Defensively, we did a pretty good job contesting the 3-point line and getting the long rebounds. And we did a good job containing their dribbler. We knew this would be a nail-bitter. I'm just glad to get out of here with a win.”
Paul Schofield is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.