Hampton boys bolstered by WPIAL playoff victory

Sunday, February 27, 2022 | 11:01 AM

First, some good news:

Hampton’s boys basketball team this season tripled its win total of 2020-21.

Plus, it’s a young team with six juniors, 11 sophomores and only three seniors on the 20-man roster.

Next, more good news:

The Talbots finished the regular season 12-10 overall and tied for third with Shaler with a 7-5 record in Section 4-5A. They advanced to the WPIAL playoffs for an 18th consecutive year, a streak that survived in 2020-21 because the district held an open tournament during the covid-impacted season.

And now:

Eighth-seeded Hampton kept its season going with a win Feb. 21 against No. 9 Kiski Area, 66-60, in the first round of the WPIAL tournament.

And for coach Joe Lafko, a WPIAL Hall of Famer who has coached at Hampton for 26 years, it marked his 499th career victory. Lafko improved to 499-320 in 32 seasons of coaching.

“We’re proud of this team’s victory tonight,” Lafko said following the game in an interview with Trib HSSN. “Kiski is a very good basketball team. They have a lot of good pieces. They’re athletic. They’ve got shooters, and they have depth.

“We knew we’d have to play a good game to beat them and we were able to hold on in the end and make some free throws when we had to.”

Thus, after winning four consecutive games down the season’s home stretch, then dropping two in a row, the Talbots responded with a clutch winning performance in the playoffs.

Hampton (13-10) advanced to a semifinal-round matchup Feb. 24 with undefeated Laurel Highlands (22-0), the No. 1 seed which crushed Woodland Hills, 74-44, in the first round.

Eight teams remained in the 5A quarterfinals; seven will qualify for the PIAA playoffs.

Hampton finished with a disappointing 4-16 record in 2020-21 but had every player return from last year’s team.

The Talbots fielded an athletic lineup this winter, sparked by 5-foot-11 all-section senior guard Matt DeMatteo, a quarterback/defensive back who helped guide the football team to its best-ever season in the fall.

“I was pleased with our regular season,” DeMatteo said. ”We hung in strong, grew as a team and pulled through to finish third in the section. I think we could’ve gotten a few more wins, but I was proud.

“I am proud of myself this season. My roles as a starter are to be one of the leading scorers and be the best defender on the court.”

DeMatteo has averaged in the 12-13 points per game range the past two years. He is a three-sport standout, earning three varsity letters in football, basketball and track, and the son of former Hampton football coach Jacque DeMatteo.

Hampton’s starting five this season consisted of DeMatteo, junior guards Brennan Murray and Eric Weeks, and sophomore forwards Robert Coll and Liam Mignogna.

“We lost a few close games this season, but it gave us good insight on what we needed to fix in order to make it to the playoffs,” Murray said. “I am happy with how our team has grown and matured throughout the season. Guys like Liam and Eric have played great roles in our team’s success.”

Murray, a point guard, is considered the team’s “quarterback” on offense. He averaged 8.3 points and almost five assists before the postseason.

“My main role is being our point guard,” Murray said, “which is something that I like being because you can control the game. It allows you to slow down the pace of the game when we need to get a basket, but also push the ball up the court during transition.

“As the season progressed, I felt like I have been getting better every day as a player and a teammate. We are also winning games which is important, too.”

Top reserves for the Talbots this season have included 6-4 junior center Braxton Eastly, senior guard/forward Bobby Oliver and senior guard Zander Plizga, a starter on Hampton’s WPIAL and state championship soccer team.

The Talbots pulled away from a 22-22 halftime tie with Kiski Area to gain a 46-34 lead after three quarters.

Weeks and DeMatteo led Hampton with 19 and 18 points, and Coll and Mignogna chipped in 11 apiece.

“Our expectations are to play hard and win,” Murray said. “All the teams in the playoffs are here for a reason. Kiski Area’s a good team. Coach Lafko and coach (Joe) Cangilla prepared us all for the pressure and skill Kiski Area has, so I think we were ready for the game.”

For DeMatteo, Murray’s backcourt partner, it’s “win or go packing.”

“Our expectations are to play the best we can for the playoffs because if we don’t, we go home,” he said.


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