Hampton earns WPIAL title-game rematch with No. 1 New Castle
Hampton can prepare for another evening at Palumbo Center.
The No. 3-seeded Talbots secured their fourth trip to the WPIAL basketball championships in five seasons — and their first in Class AAAA — with a 66-62 semifinal victory Wednesday night over No. 2 North Allegheny. Awaiting them in Saturday's title game will be New Castle, a rematch of last season's Class AAA championship.
Hampton won the WPIAL Class AAA title in 2009 and was runner-up in 2010 and 2012.
“We set our goals the same every year,” said junior Ryan Luther, who scored 27 points and sank all six of his fourth-quarter free-throw attempts. “Whether in Quad-A or (Triple-A), we're not going to try for anything less.”
Luther also had 10 rebounds and three blocks. The 6-foot-8 junior presents a mismatch for most any opponent and was dominant in the final quarter on both ends of the court. His six free throws were crucial, but so were his two blocks.
“Ryan Luther is our go-to guy, offensively and defensively,” Hampton coach Joe Lafko said. “He made some big plays tonight.”
North Allegheny led, 54-53, with 3:30 left after an 11-2 run that included a go-ahead basket by Sean Hennigan. The Tigers stole two consecutive inbounds passes from Hampton to claim the lead, but they couldn't hold it.
A quick 6-0 run gave Hampton a 59-54 lead with 2:18 left. Four of those six points were free throws by Luther.
Trailing 59-57 with 55 seconds left, North Allegheny forced another turnover, but an awkward-angle shot by James Meeker missed.
“Some of the experience is paying off with this group,” Lafko said. “Having the long playoff run last year was helpful to us. Everybody on the court played in those games last year. You just can't duplicate this kind of pressure and these kind of situations.”
David Huber had 12 points for Hampton, and Joey Lafko added 11. Meeker led North Allegheny with 19 points, Adam Haus had 15 points and Hennigan added 13.
North Allegheny held a 31-27 lead at half. But Hampton's perimeter defense closed out better on NA's shooters in the second half. The Talbots used their length in top-heavy zones and also switched less when playing man.
“When North Allegheny can spot up for wide-open threes, they're very effective shooting,” Lafko said.
North Allegheny made 7 of 17 from 3-point range in the first half, including four by Meeker and Joe Mancini. But the Tigers made just 3 of 16 in the second half against a Talbots defense more determined to contest them.
“Sometimes you go through a spell where your shots don't go,” North Allegheny coach Dave DeGregorio said. “You've just got to weather that storm, and they did. They knew they'd be there in the end. (We) had the momentum and everything with 2 minutes left, and then a couple plays happen and you're on the short end.”