Gaffney, playoff-bound Hempfield keep rival Latrobe from WPIAL postseason

Friday, February 7, 2020 | 10:35 PM

Mikey Gaffney thought Hempfield had a playoff team last year, but the Spartans fell short of reaching the WPIAL boys basketball postseason. A 25-point loss on the final night of the season to rival Latrobe, a perennial playoff team, only rubbed salt in the wound.

“I feel like I let the team down last year, like I could have done more,” Gaffney said. “(Latrobe) took us out of the playoffs last year. That didn’t sit well with us. I took it upon myself to make sure we turned it around tonight.”

The senior guard more than made up for it in the Spartans’ home finale Friday night, which also was senior night at a packed Spartan Field House.

Gaffney netted a career-high 24 points, connected on four 3-pointers and made 8 of 11 free throws — 8 of 8 during his team’s 25-point fourth quarter — as Hempfield eliminated Latrobe from the playoffs with a 66-52 victory in the final Section 3-6A game of the season.

“We’re all big fans of Gaff,” Hempfield coach Bill Swan said. “We stick with Gaff. He plays big in the money games.”

Latrobe (6-15, 3-7) will not be in the WPIAL postseason for the first time since 2011-12. That also was the last time it had a losing record.

Already in the playoffs — the first time that has happened since 2015-16 — Hempfield (12-9, 6-4) put a stamp on second place in the section with a big second half on the way to its fourth straight win.

The Spartans added to their first winning season since 2014-15 as junior Michael Hosni added 13 points and senior Nick Suchko had 12. They swept Latrobe, having won, 68-66, on the road.

After 13 lead changes and two ties in the first half, Hempfield built a double-digit lead late in the third and didn’t let the Wildcats get any closer than nine in the fourth.

“I felt like I needed to step up like some of our seniors of the past did when they were here,” Gaffney said. “This win wasn’t just for the current seniors, it was for the past ones, too. We had a big crowd, and we fed off them in crunch time.”

The Spartans broke up the back-and-forth flow in the third when Gaffney knocked down a pair of 3s, the second to stretch the margin to 11 (41-30) with 2:11 to go until the fourth.

Senior forward Marcus McCarthy made consecutive baskets early in the fourth, before a 10-1 run gave the Spartans a commanding, 57-39 lead with 3:45 remaining. A hot-shooting quarter also saw junior Hosni connect from 3 before reserve senior Brandon Flock, a 6-4, 250-pound forward, fired in a 3 from the top of the key inside the closing minute.

Swan appreciated the play of more than one of his seniors. He had all six announced during the starting lineups.

“They played like a team with six seniors on senior night,” Latrobe coach Brad Wetzel said. “That was more than we could handle. Their size and strength was key as the game wore on.”

Eight players scored for Hempfield.

“Blake Remaley, his energy tonight was infectious,” Swan said. “He was diving for loose balls and defending. Our kids played hard.”

Senior Michael Noonan, who has had a breakthrough season for the Wildcats, finished with 19 points, 10 in the second half. Junior Ryan Sickenberger added 13.

With Latrobe expected to move to Class 5A next season, this could be the end of an oft-heated, always-watched section rivalry.

“Give Latrobe credit,” Swan said. “They start a freshman, a sophomore and a couple juniors. It says a lot for them to be in this position to still get in. When Latrobe were riding high and on their (playoff) run, they beat us and we took our lumps. It’s nice to see our guys have some success now.”

Hempfield took a 27-24 lead into halftime. It used a 7-0 run to build a 27-20 advantage, which included a 3-pointer by Gaffney, who had 10 points before the half.

Gaffney almost had a four-point play but missed the free throw — “I was locked in after that,” he said. “I was in the zone after Blake came up to me and fired us up.”

“I am happy for our kids,” Swan said. “This is as hard as a team and staff can work. We started April 1 and poured our souls into this.”

The win pulled Connellsville into the playoffs, as well. Swan is a Connellsville grad.

Connellsville, Norwin and Latrobe tied for fourth at 3-7, but Connellsville won the tiebreaker.

“Two people are happy tonight,” Swan said. “My mom and (Connellsville coach) Andy Hedrick.”

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

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