Fast start fuels Hempfield boys to win over Kiski Area

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Saturday, December 14, 2019 | 4:34 PM


Hempfield had been on the wrong end of fast starts this season.

After a 75-53 victory over Kiski Area on Saturday that was predicated on a white-hot first quarter, the Spartans could bask in seeing how the other half lives.

“We’ve been down 17-6, 15-6 and 7-0 the last three first quarters,” Hempfield coach Bill Swan said. “It’s about momentum. You see the difference today. It feels good.”

Junior Christian Zilli scored 24 points, and Hempfield shot over 70% from the field in the opening quarter to take the opener of the second Westmoreland County Coaches Association Boys Basketball Showcase. The game was played in the auxiliary gym at Hempfield, where the Spartans practiced twice this week.

Hempfield (2-3) outscored the Cavaliers, 22-5, in the first quarter.

Zilli had 17 in the first half.

The win for Hempfield was a combination of efficiency, sharing the ball and success with its 2-1-2 press.

“We like to run, so it was a good fit for today,” Swan said of the defensive approach. “We saw teams run some pressure against Kiski.”

The Spartans, coming off a 55-49 overtime loss at Hollidaysburg, made 23 of 38 2-point shots and shot 52% (29 of 53) for the game.

They had just 12 turnovers.

“We were really emphasizing in the locker room coming out and jumping out to a lead,” said Zilli, who made 8 of 12 shots and also had eight rebounds. “I felt great in warm-ups, and my teammates got me great looks. I can’t thank them enough. They feed me the ball when I’m hot. They’re the best.”

Hempfield led 9-0 before Kiski Area (2-3) scored, and the lead reached double figures quickly as the Spartans scored in transition.

Kiski Area cut it to 22-11, but the Spartans kept the gas pedal down to take a 41-25 advantage into the half.

Zilli had 10 in the second quarter, including two 3-pointers.

“They shot it really well,” Kiski Area coach Will Saunders said. “Their pressure got to us a little bit. They reverse-passed out of our traps and defended well.”

A basket by Marcus McCarthy, who had 14 points for Hempfield, made it 48-28.

Kiski Area scored 20 in the fourth to close the gap, but the hole was too large.

Senior Mikey Gaffney finished with 10 points for Hempfield.

Swan was pleased overall.

“We always say if we can get hot at the same time, we can be pretty good,” Swan said. “I thought all of our seniors played well.”

Saunders noticed Hempfield did its homework on his team.

“That 2-2-1 press has been our Achilles’ heel,” he said. “They bumped us and rushed us. We needed to respond better to their physicality.”

Speaking of big starts, Kiski Area led Connellsville, 24-0, on Tuesday before the Falcons came back. Kiski Area held on for a 54-52 win.

“We saw how Connellsville pressed them (on film) and ended up turning them over a bunch,” Zilli said.

“Connellsville came back. We came out and found success with that.”

Zilli said Hempfield’s chemistry continues to bud in the early going.

“We’re working a lot in practice with different lineups so we can get everyone to bond together,” Zilli said. “We play a ton of different lineups in games so practice is translating into the game.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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