Hampton eager to compete in open WPIAL basketball playoffs

Saturday, February 13, 2021 | 9:01 AM

WPIAL Hall of Fame basketball coach Joe Lafko’s 25th season at Hampton has been like no others.

After dealing with the consequences of the covid-19 pandemic, the Talbots, playoff qualifiers for 16 consecutive years, ended January with just one win.

But because of the unique circumstances surrounding this season, the WPIAL will hold an open postseason tournament, meaning any team is eligible.

Hampton wrapped up the first month of the season 1-8 overall with a 1-4 Section 4-5A record. After defeating Indiana, 42-30, on Jan. 15, the Talbots lost their next six, including a 56-55 decision to Highlands on Jan. 26.

Nonetheless, the senior-less Talbots jumped at the chance to extend their streak of consecutive playoff appearances to 17.

“We think it will only benefit this young team to continue to get more experience in a playoff game,” Lafko said. “I look forward to continuing to help this team grow.

“With a young team, there is always a large improvement curve. The players have embraced some early season challenges to compete against some excellent squads and continue to work in practice to improve. I am proud of the way they have responded with resilience, and I have seen marked improvement in their skills, roles and execution of game situations.”

Matt DeMatteo, a 6-foot junior guard and the school’s starting quarterback, believes the Talbots could make some noise in the WPIAL tournament.

“I’m excited for this Hampton team to compete in it,” DeMatteo said. “I believe we have the the ability to win games in this tournament and cause other teams some trouble.”

“This year has been crazy for us. We have dealt with shutdowns, players quitting and injuries. We obviously don’t have the record we wanted for the first half of the year, but we are finally starting to come together and play as a team.”

The winter sports season came to a halt Dec. 12 when Gov. Tom Wolf paused high school sports because of a statewide spike in covid-19 cases. The shutdown ended Jan. 4.

Hampton is a member of Section 4-5A, along with Armstrong, Indiana, Mars, Plum and Shaler and newcomer Highlands. Franklin Regional and Kiski Area were moved out as part of the WPIAL realignment.

One of the concerns for the Talbots has been their lack of offensive firepower. Through 10 games, they averaged 45.7 points while allowing 55.5.

“We came into the season knowing that it was a very young team with limited varsity experience and returning offensive production,” Lafko said. “We didn’t have the offseason to work on some things that we typically have in place going into November, due to the pandemic. That, with some of the changes which have happened in-season due to the pandemic, have slowed the team’s progress.

“The expectation is to continue to improve on our individual skills and collectively of our execution in game situations.”

Lafko has mixed and matched lineup combinations and has received contributions from several athletes.

They include DeMatteo, 5-9 junior guard Zander Plizga, 6-3 sophomore guard Brennan Murray, 6-4 sophomore forward Braxton Eastly and 6-2 freshman guard/forward Robert Coll, the starting five at this time.

“There are still plenty of games for us to play and compete in and most importantly win,” DeMatteo said. “I expect us to improve greatly as a team and end the season with more wins then we started the first half with.”

Murray is one of eight sophomores on the varsity roster.

“Our team has competed hard in all of our games,” Murray said, “especially with the shutdown, injuries, missing practice time and losing some of our players. We are a young team. We start two sophomores, two juniors and a freshman. We are also getting great minutes from freshman Liam Mignogna, who is playing great inside. We are improving every game with coach Lafko and coach (Joe) Cangilla pushing us every day in practice to play as hard as we can.

“I expect us to finish out strong and have some quality wins. I hope that with every game we play we learn something no matter the win or loss. The only thing I want us to do is play hard in every game and compete.”

Other players who have made their presence felt this season include Mignogna, a 6-7 freshman forward; Eric Weeks, a 6-0 sophomore guard; Bobby Oliver, a 6-1 junior G/F; Jaden McMeeken, a 6-2 sophomore G/F; and Matt Moser, a sophomore forward who suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Murray echoed his teammates’ sentiments about the WPIAL open tournament.

“It will be a good test for us because it’s win or go home,” Murray said. “The way we’re improving every game, we might surprise a team in the tournament.

“And with games being live streamed, my grandparents, relatives and siblings throughout the country have been able to watch our games unlike in past years.”

Hampton senior guard Quinn Morrow opted to sit out the 2020-21 season because of covid-19 pandemic concerns.


More Basketball

Leechburg boys basketball coach Damian Davies resigns
Penn Hills notebook: Drew Schifino plans basketball camp
Freeport grad takes over boys basketball program
Former OLSH basketball star Jake DiMichele commits to Duquesne
Penn Hills notebook: Daemar Kelly earns all-state honors