Hempfield closes in on WPIAL playoff spot after win at Penn-Trafford

Tuesday, February 8, 2022 | 10:43 PM

Playing with a sense of playoff urgency, Hempfield pieced together a Section 3-6A win and moved a step closer to securing a postseason berth.

Then came the waterworks.

“I could cry right now,” coach Bill Swan said, soaked in a white T-shirt, dress pants and damp dress shoes. “These guys are just unbelievable. They were in the gym at 6:30 (Monday morning) and again after school. They’ve worked for this.”

Players doused Swan with water, streaks and sprays splashing across the locker room, after the Spartans maintained control for four quarters, negotiating a shaky fourth quarter to beat Penn-Trafford, 50-42, on Tuesday night in Harrison City.

A win Friday over Greensburg Salem will secure a playoff spot for the Spartans (6-13, 3-6), who broke a four-game losing streak and earned a split with Penn-Trafford (8-11, 4-5), who had already clinched.

Hempfield, which is tied with Norwin for fourth place, had just one field goal in the fourth quarter and relied on free throws to stay ahead.

“These kids want it so bad,” Swan said. “We needed this tonight. I told them, let’s not worry about the playoffs. Let’s just play hard and get a road win over a tough team.”

Senior Sean Gordon scored 17 points, senior Chaz Ewer added 12 and junior Harrison Sowers had 10 for Hempfield, whose rugged nonsection schedule helped prepare it for meaningful late-season section games like this one.

Senior Nick Crum had 16 points and senior Noah Wright tallied 14 — for 30 of Penn-Trafford’s 42 points. The Warriors had a number of quality looks down the stretch, but the ball kept rimming out.

On a night when the Warriors contended with foul trouble to junior forwards Tommy Kalkstein and Conlan Greene, they were just 1 for 9 from the foul line.

“We just had our three best days of practice,” Warriors coach Doug Kelly said. “You just never know. I’m not sure why it didn’t translate. Give Hempfield all the credit. They performed well under pressure.”

Ewer connected on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to snap closed the first half and give the Spartans a 32-20 advantage.

They carried the momentum into the second half.

“I didn’t really do a good job of looking at the clock,” Ewer said. “I shot it and thought it was kind of off to the right. It was nice to see it go in.”

Sowers dove for a loose ball and got it to senior Dom Hipps, who tossed ahead to Ewer. The 6-foot-4 Life College volleyball commit lined up the 3 from the left elbow and sank it.

Ewer had nine points in the second quarter. His layup gave the Spartans a double-figure lead at 29-18.

Sowers made one of his three 3-pointers in the third before senior forward Daniel Sierk converted a three-point play to stretch it to 41-29.

“They imposed their will,” Kelly said of the Spartans, who lost 50-48 to Penn-Trafford earlier in the season.

Senior Johnny DeMarchis scored four points to open the fourth for the Warriors, and Wright made a 3 to cut the deficit to 45-40 with 3:20 to go.

As shots missed for Penn-Trafford, Hempfield made 7 of 15 free throws to hold back the Warriors.

“We gave all we had to stop Wright,” Swan said. “And Crum made some really just tough shots. We did a great job on their football guys.”

Hempfield led 15-12 after the first quarter as senior Brandon Learn hit a pair of 3s.

Wright had seven in the opening eight minutes.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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