Hempfield enjoying turnaround, ready for Open Cup
Hempfield reached the PIHL Penguins Cup Class AAA playoffs following the 2010-11 season, but the Spartans didn't stay long, dropping a 6-5 decision to Central Catholic.
Senior captain Mike Donofrio, a freshman on that team, expects the Spartans to stick around a little longer this season as a member of the Open Class.
“We're ready,” Donofrio said. “It's the first time we've been to the playoffs in awhile, so we're ready. It's a little different being in a new league, but we're going to roll in there with confidence.”
Hempfield (18-3) beat Carrick, 6-4, in a first-round game Sunday night.
Hempfield, which won a total of 10 games during Donofrio's sophomore and junior seasons, finished second to Indiana (18-1-1) in Section 3. The Spartans (34 points) entered the postseason as the No. 3 seed.
Much of the credit for Hempfield's sudden turnaround should go to the team's seniors, second-year coach Denny Zeravica said.
Zach Iezzi, Billy Hayden and Mike Adams have anchored the defense, and Anthony Ciocca ranked 10th in the classification with 52 points during the regular season.
Avery Lavella added 41, and Donofrio has played a role imaginable.
“The senior leadership has been fantastic this year,” Zeravica said. “I can't say enough for all of them.”
Sophomore goaltender Garrett Ciaramella ranked at or near the top of the classification in wins (15), shutouts (four), goals-against average (1.75) and save percentage (.915).
Though it wasn't as unexpected as Hempfield's turnaround, Baldwin entered the postseason as the No. 1 seed after posting an Open Class-best 37 points, two more than Indiana.
Few have been able to stop Anthony Alaimo, who ranked fourth during the regular season with 59 points, including 25 goals.
Alaimo plays on a line with center Max Milan and fellow winger Brian Dee, who was ninth with 54 points in the regular season.
“I have great linemates,” Alaimo said. “We connect well. Brian has the hands and the shot. Me and Max work the puck, get it deep and grind.”
Indiana has the league's No. 2 scorer in Jess Bartholow, a 6-foot-5 forward who's dominant on the puck. Bartholow finished with 61 points and 29 goals, as Indiana won Section 3 with a 17-1-1 record.
The Little Indians reached the semifinals last year — also known as the Northeast final — before falling to eventual Open Class champion Ford City, 7-4.
“We've not faced a great deal of adversity,” said Indiana coach Dom Glavach, whose team had a goal differential of plus-115 during the regular season. “We've only had one very challenging game. Hempfield was the only one where we had to come from behind and tie it to go into overtime.”
West Virginia entrant Harbor Creek went 18-1 to win Section 2 and enters the Southwest portion of the bracket as the No. 1 seed.
Harbor Creek's Logan Conboy led the Open Class in scoring during the regular season with 65 points.
Morgantown is the other section champion and is seeded second.
Peters Township could make some noise in the Southwest. The Indians are seeded third and lost to Morgantown, 2-1, on Feb. 19.
Vince Defazio and Logan Davis of Greensburg Salem ranked fifth and sixth in regular-season scoring at 57 and 56 points, respectively.