Hampton coach Lafko gets career win No. 499 as Talbots defeat Kiski Area

Monday, February 21, 2022 | 10:16 PM

Joe Lafko has been coaching boys basketball for a long time, and he’s won his share of games during a 32-year high school career.

Hampton provided Lafko with win No. 499 on Monday night as the Talbots, behind Eric Weeks’ 19 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers during an explosive third-quarter burst, advanced in the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs with a 66-60 victory over visiting Kiski Area in the first round.

“We’re proud of this team’s victory tonight,” Lafko said without a hint of self-satisfaction.

Hampton outscored Kiski Area, 24-12, in the third quarter to pull away from a 22-22 deadlock at halftime.

Matt DeMatteo added 18 points, and Robert Coll and Liam Mignogna chipped in 11 apiece for Hampton, which moves to the quarterfinals Thursday night at top-seeded and unbeaten Laurel Highlands (22-0).

“To extend your season into the PIAA playoffs, you have to be at least in the final eight,” Lafko said. “Seven out of the eight quarterfinal teams get into the states and follow the leader. Playing in the states is a big program-booster. You get three more weeks of practice — and we’ve still got a ways to go. Nothing is a guarantee yet, but it at least gives you that opportunity.”

No. 8 Hampton (13-10) will get it’s shot in the quarterfinals and Lafko will be going for No. 500, but it doesn’t figure to be easy with Laurel Highlands looming. The Mustangs routed No. 16 Woodland Hills, 74-44, in another first-round game Monday night.

“We’ll see how that goes,” said Lafko, who takes a 499-320 career coaching record into the game.

Kiski Area coach Corey Smith completed his first season at his alma mater by turning around the ninth-seeded Cavaliers’ fortunes following a five-win season a year ago with a 15-8 record this year.

“No one likes to lose,” Smith said, “but we’re going to celebrate the season on the way home. I told the kids, ‘I want the music on, and I want you to celebrate on the bus.’ I’m being serious. We’re going to celebrate the season. We’re not going to be quiet. Usually, when we lose, we ask, ‘Why are we celebrating the loss?’ We’re not worried about that now. We’re going to celebrate the season we had this year.”

Isaiah Gonzalez led Kiski Area with 15 points. Others in double figures were James Pearson with 13, Noah Thimons 12 and Dylan Hutcherson 10.

“Kiski is a very good basketball team,” Lafko said. “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.”

Kiski Area rallied in the fourth quarter, outscoring Hampton, 26-20, and got within 57-52 on a basket by Pearson.

But Murray and Coll combined to make six free throws in the final minute as Hampton held on.

“We scouted (Weeks) and knew he could make that (3-point) shot from the corner,” Smith said. “But in the midst of the game, the atmosphere got kind of crazy and the kids just had a mishap there.”

Hampton’s third-quarter lead ballooned to as many as 18 points and the Talbots were up 46-34 heading to the fourth.

“In the third quarter, we scored more points than we did in the entire first half,” Lafko said. “Overall, I liked our balance in scoring. We almost had all five starters in double figures. We were able to hold on in the end and make some free throws when we had to.”

When Kiski Area got within striking distance inside the 3-minute mark of the fourth quarter, Smith said it was tough to decide when to foul and when not to.

“It was kind of a chess match,” he said. “We were trying to get some turnovers with traps, but when that wasn’t happening, we had to resort to fouling and hop they didn’t make their foul shots. I tip my hat off to coach (Laftko). He had a great game plan.”

Smith said he’s proud of the way the Cavaliers fought back after falling so far behind.

“We went down swinging,” he said. “With me at the top, we always will.”

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