Hempfield captures Section 1-AAAA title
Hempfield first-year boys basketball coach Mark Marino said he didn't know Tuesday night's game at Kiski Area was for the Section 1-AAAA championship.
His players' reaction after the game gave it away.
“I had guys running out on the court and chest-bumping each other,” Marino said. “They're jumping around in the locker room and going nuts. I'm wondering what's going on. Then they told me what happened.
“No disrespect to Kiski Area, but I'll leave the playoff seedings up to the fans and other people.”
Consider it a bonus for Marino and the No. 4 Spartans, who downed the defending section champions 51-37 before a crowd Kiski Area officials called one of the largest they've had in years.
Junior guard Kason Harrell scored a game-high 19 points and 6-7 junior forward Tony Pilato added 12 for Hempfield (18-2, 11-0), which has one section game remaining but can't be caught.
Kiski Area fell to 14-5, 10-2 and had a six-game win streak snapped.
“We had some good looks that we've been making lately, but we missed some shots and couldn't get into a rhythm,” said Cavaliers coach Joey Tutchstone, also in his first season.
Hempfield was strong defensively against a weaving Kiski Area offense that Marino didn't enjoy preparing for. While many people in the gym were peeking outside to see if freezing rain had started, Hempfield defenders were locked on their opponents man-to-man.
“(Senior guard) Michael Nauman is the best defensive player in the conference. I'm voting for him right now,” Marino said. “He and (senior) Nolan Beresford did a tremendous job against (Kiski Area's Mike) Simmons. Those guys sacrifice for us and man up on ‘D,' and it speaks to their character.”
Joey Brungo led Kiski Area with 15 points on Senior Night. Simmons, the other half of the Cavaliers' Big Two, added 10.
Kiski Area struggled from long range, making just one 3-pointer.
Hempfield, which also made just one 3, took a double-digit lead late in the first half on a bucket by Harrell and added to it in the third. Pilato's lay-in gave the Spartans a 33-19 advantage.
Kiski Area cut it to 37-30 late in the third on a running bank shot by Simmons, but Harrell beat the third-quarter buzzer and Hempfield used the momentum to pull away in the fourth.
Harrell, who scored 12 points in the first half, impressed Tutchstone, like he does most opposing coaches.
“He's the best player in the section, but he also has the best character,” Tutchstone said. “He is extremely mature for his age. He has poise and lets the game come to him.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is a staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com.