Hempfield eases past Peters Township
Evan Thompson walked past the Hempfield Area bench in the fourth quarter of Wednesday night's WPIAL Class AAAA playoff game and told coach Bill Swan to relax.
"He told me it's in the bag, so quit yelling,'' Swan said.
While Swan was a nervous wreck, Thompson and his Spartans teammates played with a coolness that teams need to play with in order to win playoff games. Last night at Ringgold High School, the Spartans walked away with a 61-50 victory over a stubborn Peters Township squad in a first-round playoff game.
Hempfield (22-2) will play Plum in a quarterfinal round game Saturday at a site to be determined. Plum advanced with a 51-39 victory over North Hills.
The Spartans got a superb game from 6-foot-5 senior forward Patrick Stewart, and a quiet, but effective game from junior guard Torrey Sochacki.
Peters Township couldn't stop Stewart. He dominated all defenders and finished with a game-high 26 points.
Sochacki scored 15 points, including eight in the fourth quarter when Peters Township made a few runs, and pulled down 12 rebounds.
"Patrick played a great game," Swan said. "We look to him first and Torrey second. We run 70 percent of our offense through Patrick. We want to see how teams try to guard him."
Peters Township coach Victor Giannotta decided to open the game in a zone. But 3-pointers by Sochacki, Jeff Neurohr and Thompson quickly changed that plan.
"We wanted to pick our poison," Giannotta said. "If we stayed in the zone, we could double down on Stewart. But that made us a poor rebounding team. So we tried to play man, and Stewart created a matchup problem."
Giannotta had Mark Smith and Mike Fritz guarding Stewart in the first half, but both players were in foul trouble by the second quarter.
Hempfield, behind the 3-point barrage, led 14-11 after one quarter.
Midway through the second quarter, Stewart got hot. He scored seven consecutive points to give the Spartans a 25-18 lead. Stewart scored 14 points in the first half.
Still, Peters Township stayed close behind the play of 6-3 senior forward Smith. He scored 11 points in the first half that helped the Indians cut the Spartans lead to 29-25.
Hempfield worked for the final shot of the half, and when Thompson found Brian Higginbotham cutting along the baseline for a basket at the buzzer, the Spartans had a 31-25 lead at halftime.
"That play was huge," Giannotta said. "We were down four and had the possession to start the second half. You hate to give up a basket at the end of the quarter."
Hempfield continued to pound the ball inside to Stewart in the third quarter. He scored eight of the team's 12 points as Hempfield extended its lead to 43-35.
Peters Township was also in major foul trouble. Fritz picked up two more fouls and was on the bench with four, and Smith, who finished with 21 points, was on the bench with four fouls after being whistled for two charging fouls.
Hempfield's free-throw woes allowed Peters Township to stay close. The Spartans were 12 of 21 from the foul line in the second half.
"We're usually better than that from the foul line," Swan said. "Torrey is usually money from the foul line."
Sochacki was 8 of 13 from the line in the game.
Peters Township, however, took advantage of its chances and cut the Hempfield lead to six (43-37, 45-39 and 49-43) on three occasions in the quarter
"We had our chances," Giannotta said. "We just couldn't get any closer than six points."
Each time the Indians would make a run, the Spartans responded with a basket and clutch free throws. Hempfield did convert on 10 of 12 free throws during the final three minutes, and Thompson, who finished with 10 points, was 3 of 4 during that stretch.
Hempfield also got a strong game from reserve guard John DiLorenzo. He had numerous assists and played tough defense.
"Peters Township is a good basketball team," Swan said. "We won because we play great defense."
Swan also said that last night's win was big for him. It was his first playoff victory at Hempfield.
"I got the monkey off my back," he said.