Hempfield ekes out victory over scrappy Franklin Regional

Saturday, December 11, 2021 | 9:28 PM

The wheels were set in motion for a double-digit victory.

But the wheels nearly came off for Hempfield in the fourth quarter Saturday night against Franklin Regional.

The host Spartans tried to give away the finale of the 17th annual Hempfield Tip-Off Basketball Tournament, watching a 14-point lead dry up as the Panthers clawed back, but settled for a 63-62 win.

“It looked like it was our job to play horrible defense and turn it over in the fourth quarter,” Spartans coach Bill Swan said. “It was horrible coaching, too. But a win is a win, so I guess we’ll take it.”

Hempfield (1-1), which bounced back from a 79-64 loss to North Allegheny in Friday’s opening round by making 11 3-pointers Saturday, led Franklin Regional (0-2) 53-39 heading to the final frame.

But the Panthers found the Spartans to be vulnerable down the stretch, using a 14-3 run to close the gap to 56-53 with 2 minutes, 59 seconds remaining.

Sophomore Finian Hutchison hit back-to-back 3-pointers, and senior Caden Smith scored four straight points during FR’s late push.

“We’re getting used to a new system and working on some things,” said Smith, who sat out with three fouls during a stretch when Hempfield surged ahead. “I was happy to see our guys fight back like that.”

Smith, who led the Panthers with 19 points, banked in a long jumper to make it 59-55.

Sophomore teammate Cam Rowell made a 3 on the way to 18 points, Smith made 1 of 2 free throws and it was 61-59 with 6.3 seconds to go.

Senior Chaz Ewer was good on two free throws for Hempfield with 5.2 seconds left, but Smith returned to the line, made a free throw and put back his miss on the second attempt for a 63-62 score with six-tenths of a second left.

Hempfield inbounded deep to finally end it.

“We had a lot of unforced errors,” Hempfield senior Sean Gordon said. “We have to know the situation. I have to know the situation. Hopefully, these kind of mistakes will help us in the future.”

Hempfield was ahead most of the game, only trailing once, at 12-11.

The Spartans took a 38-30 lead into the half following a pair of 3s from Gordon, who tied senior Joey Fiedor with a team-high 16 points.

Sharpshooting junior guard Harrison Sowers, who scored 14, including 11 in the second half, made a 3 and a layup midway into the third quarter to stretch the margin to 11 (46-35).

Senior Dan Sierk’s putback made it 48-35 before Sowers connected from long range again for a 53-39 advantage heading to the fourth.

The game pitted Swan against Franklin Regional rookie coach Jesse Reed, who played at Greensburg Central Catholic when Swan was an assistant there.

Swan won, but just barely.

“I am happy for Jesse, proud for him,” Swan said. “We’ll compete, and they will, too.”

Reed enjoyed watching the Panthers rally but wanted the win.

“We let Hempfield get comfortable,” Reed said. “We let them get shots. Our guys were resilient, and that is nice to see. We came back from double digits down against OLSH (on Friday) too. When you get down like that, things can go the other way. That’s all I can ask for from my guys. Being so competitive, I wanted the win.”

As for his faceoff with Swan, Reed said: “It’s bittersweet. I told him, nobody wins today. Hopefully we can do it again, just not too soon. It was a lot of fun.”

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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