Hampton boys basketball edges North Allegheny in WPIAL semifinals
The Hampton boys basketball team blazed a path to its fourth WPIAL finals appearance in the past five seasons in its first season in Class AAAA.
The stellar season ended with a silver medal for the Talbots, as a red-hot New Castle team took the gold, 68-53.
“We had a little bit of an off night,” Hampton coach Joe Lafko said. “I give New Castle credit: They forced us into some bad decisions, forced tough shots, contested shots and played hard on defense.”
The complete game from New Castle exploited some Hampton mistakes, and although Hampton had some moments in the game, New Castle kept the pressure on.
Hampton's Ryan Luther led the team with 17 points, and a five-point surge in the second quarter highlighted by what seemed to be a momentum-changing dunk was thwarted by a couple of quick 3-pointers by New Castle.
The loss stung, but Lafko pointed out the accomplishments of this team that shouldn't be overlooked.
“I told the guys I am proud of them and how they played this season in Quad A,” Lafko said. “I would bet my bottom dollar that 14 other teams would have welcomed this opportunity.”
Figuring out how to beat New Castle will remain the focus as the PIAA bracket begins this weekend, but Lafko said for anyone to knock New Castle off, they will have to bring it for the entire game.
Hampton will press on with 12 games of playoff experience packed into a team that starts three juniors and two sophomores. The squad reached the finals last season in Class AAA.
The goal now: win states. But no matter what happens next, this team will be a force in the state tournament now and beyond.
Road to the finals
Despite being a balanced team with several good players, the Hampton leaned on Luther with a trip to the WPIAL Class AAAA finals on the line against North Allegheny.
Luther, a forward who led Hampton with 27 points, netted 14 in the second half. None were more important the 6-for-6 performance from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter of a 66-62 win.
“My teammates make jokes when I miss,” Luther said. “So, I spent some extra time practicing this week.”
Luther seemed to get stronger as the game wore on, and even though North Allegheny knocked down eight 3-point baskets in the first half, Lafko tweaked his defense to neutralize the long-range attack.
The Tigers hit only two 3-pointers in the second half.
“If we let them have eight three's in the second half, we may not win the game,” Lafko said. “We corrected some things and played a 3-2 defense and followed our game plan.
“NA is very tough to defend when left they can get open shots. We did a better job of contesting them in the second half.”
Hampton seemed unfazed by the North Allegheny assault. Luther shouldered the load, but brother Collin did his damage on the defense with four rebounds, a block and a steal.
Guards David Huber and Joey Lafko won their matchups. Huber did his damage from the charity stripe, hitting seven of his 12 points from there.
Lafko went blow-for-blow with the Tigers from 3-point land, knocking down three of his own as part of his 11 points.
“NA is a great team; they push the ball and have a great pace,” Huber said.
Jon Floss and Jack Obringer combined for 10 second-half points.
Hampton seemed to have control of the game as the fourth quarter began, but the Tigers rallied.
“NA was not going to go away,” Lafko said. “They played hard until the end.”
A long playoff run last season for a team who returned almost everyone gives Hampton an experienced squad, and Lafko said that kind of pressure can't be simulated.
“I think that experience paid off,” he said.
The win put the Talbots back in the WPIAL finals against New Castle, a rematch of last year's WPIAL Class AAA finals. New Castle won that game and every other one this season. The only team to give them a real challenge was Hampton, which lost by only four points three weeks ago.
“This has been our goal all season,” Huber said. “We will prepare the same way.”
Jerry Clark is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-779-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org.