As playoff run ends, Hampton takes pride in special season

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Saturday, March 23, 2024 | 11:01 AM


One day after Hampton’s boys basketball season came to an end, Joe Lafko contemplated the Talbots’ memorable journey.

“We had a fantastic year,” the longtime coach said. “I am so proud of this team.”

The Talbots (25-5) put together one of the finest seasons in program history, winning a second consecutive undefeated section title and reaching the WPIAL Class 4A championship game and the PIAA semifinals during a special postseason run.

In the end, defending PIAA champion Lincoln Park and its Division I-stacked lineup was too much, beating the Talbots in both the WPIAL finals and the state semifinals.

The road ended with a 74-53 loss to Lincoln Park on March 18 at North Allegheny with a spot in the state title game on the line. The game was a rematch of the WPIAL finals, which Hampton lost, 66-51, to Lincoln Park on Feb. 29 at Pitt’s Petersen Events Center. The Talbots fell to 0-6 in the WPIAL finals since winning their only title in 2009.

But no one is hanging their heads. Only one team in program history, the 1984 PIAA runner-up (27-4), won more games than this year’s squad. Three years ago, when the current seniors were freshmen, the Talbots went 4-16.

“What we accomplished is pretty amazing,” said 6-foot-9, 235-pound senior center Liam Mignogna, who scored a team-high 23 points in the state semifinals, including the 1,000th of his career, to cap an outstanding postseason. “I think it’s pretty cool that we, as all Hampton kids, just had something special. We won a lot of games and we beat some really good teams.”

Senior guard Peter Kramer, who will attend Lehigh as a preferred walk-on, and Mignogna, who will walk on at Pitt, averaged 20.8 and 20.5 points in eight playoff games.

The No. 2-seeded Talbots’ playoff run featured victories over Central Valley, South Allegheny and Avonworth to reach the WPIAL finals for the first time since 2017, followed by three PIAA wins to advance to the state semifinals for the first time in 12 years.

Among the highlights was a 50-48 victory over District 6 champion Greater Johnstown in the PIAA second round in which Kramer converted a four-point play with 1:25 to left to tie the game at 48-48 and then made two go-ahead foul shots with 6.5 seconds to play.

“Peter Kramer was just an absolute pleasure to coach,” Lafko said.

Johnstown was one of four district champions that Hampton defeated this season. The Talbots also beat eventual City League champ Allderdice and WPIAL Class 5A champ Moon in the regular season and District 3’s Eastern York in the PIAA playoffs. Hampton had the top defense in the WPIAL Class 4A (47.5 ppg) and went 17-1 during two months from Dec. 27-Feb. 24.

The Talbots’ all-senior lineup consisted of Kramer, Mignogna, forward Robert Coll and a pair of first-year starting guards, Alex Nyilas and A.J Prodente. Also graduating are sixth man Brock Borgo and reserve guard Brady Andrews.

“I love them, and I will miss them,” Lafko said. “They are a great group. I can’t say enough about that senior group.”

Many of them have played together since grade school, and Mignogna said they were best friends on and off the court, gathering every week during the season for chicken wings on Thursday nights.

“We knew from when we were in elementary and middle school that we were going to have something special if we all just stuck together,” Mignogna said. “It’s way more than games and practice. We built a bond that will last a lifetime. Knowing it was all put together through basketball, and then the thing that put it together being over, that’s a pretty sad feeling.”

Mignogna will continue playing at Pitt, where he will be teammates with Lincoln Park senior guard Brandin Cummings. With only lower-level Division II and D-III interest, Mignogna originally didn’t plan to play basketball in college. He was going to attend Duquesne and focus on academics. But the Pitt coaches saw him in the WPIAL title game, when he had 20 points and eight rebounds, and began talks to land him as a walk-on.

“It was a no-brainer,” Mignogna said. “I can’t put into words how excited I am. It’s an awesome opportunity.”

Lafko, who is 548-331 in 34 seasons, including 28 at Hampton, said the team will hold its season-ending banquet April 8.

“When we reflect on the accomplishments of this team, there is a lot that we can look back on and take pride in,” Lafko said. “They can keep their heads high, and they can be proud of what they did this year.”

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