Boys basketball preview: Hempfield ready to pick up pace

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Saturday, November 28, 2020 | 6:15 PM


Hempfield is in somewhat of a unique situation. While its boys basketball team lost six seniors, it returns two of its top three scorers.

Seniors Christian Zilli (12 points per game) and Michael Hosni (10.8 ppg) are back to lead the Spartans (12-11), who finished second in Section 3-6A and returned to the WPIAL playoffs after a three-year absence.

The six-pack of 12th-grade talent accounted for 56% of the points last season, but Zilli and Hosni often took big shots in big games. Their experience will be invaluable.

“We’ll build around them, for sure,” Hempfield coach Bill Swan said. “It’s hard to lose all those seniors, but it’s nice to know you’re not starting over.”

Hempfield averaged just two more points a game than it scored (57.6), and it was typical for the Spartans to slow the pace and hold the ball in drawn-out possessions.

That strategy could be a thing of the past now because the Spartans plan to shift gears. An 8-to-10-man rotation wants to spread the floor and go.

“We want to play a little faster,” Swan said. “We want pressure you on defense and pick up the tempo. I’m tired of those 52-50 slugfests. Fox Chapel and Pittsburgh Central can play that way. They’re better at it than us, anyway.”

Size will be a key attribute for the Spartans, who should be one of the longer teams in new-look Section 3, which also includes Fox Chapel, Central Catholic, Norwin, Penn-Trafford and Greensburg Salem, which comes up from Class 5A.

Some fresh faces in the rotation have size in juniors Chaz Ewer (6-foot-4), Dan Sierk (6-5, 250 pounds), Sean Gordon (6-5) and senior Niheim Lewis (6-3).

The 6-3 Hosni had 45 steals and 20 blocks as a junior.

“We have good size,” Swan said. “Let’s keep pounding it into the post. Teams don’t do that any more. Sierk, Zilli (and others) posted up for us last year.

“We need to shoot it well and rely on tough, man-to-man defense.”

Letterman Dom Hipps, a junior guard, also returns to help speed up the backcourt.

Other guards are senior Nico Decaro and juniors Brandon Learn and Joe Fiedor.

“We’re very inexperienced, yes, but that could benefit us,” said the 6-2 Zilli, who averaged 5.8 rebounds. “Nobody has any film on us.”

Zilli’s football season was cut short because of covid-19 cases at Hempfield, which forced the Spartans to cancel their final two games. He was the quarterback.

“Hopefully we can play a full season (in basketball),” he said. “We’ve all worked hard in the offseason, and now we’re working hard at practice.”

Hempfield usually plays 50 or 60 games in the summer but was out of commission as a group until the fall.

Other seniors looking to contribute are Luke Harbaugh and Mario Perkins.

Hempfield at a glance

Coach: Bill Swan

Last year’s record: 12-11 (6-4 Section 3-6A)

Returning starters: Mike Hosni (Sr., G), Christian Zilli (Sr., G-F)

Top newcomers: Nico Decaro (Sr., G), Chaz Ewer (Jr., F), Joe Fiedor (Jr., F), Sean Gordon (Jr., F), Dom Hipps (Jr., G), Brandon Learn (Jr., G), Niheim Lewis (Sr., F), Dan Sierk (Jr., F)

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

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