Hempfield holds off rally to beat rival Greensburg Salem

Saturday, December 28, 2019 | 8:21 PM

Greensburg Salem saved its best for last, but it wasn’t enough to get around Hempfield, which fended off the Golden Lions’ late surge in the final game of the Greensburg Salem Holiday Classic.

After scoring just 13 points in the first half — a testament to Hempfield’s shot-challenging defense — Greensburg Salem erupted for 41 points in the second half (26 in the fourth quarter), but Hempfield negotiated the comeback with poise and held on for a 60-54 victory Saturday to even its record at 5-5.

“It’s always fun playing them,” Hempfield coach Bill Swan said. “We feel comfortable with our seniors, and they handled (the comeback) well tonight. We knew they were going to start making shots. We did a nice job defensively and took care of the ball for the most part.”

Senior Marcus McCarthy scored a career-high 24 points, 20 in the second half, to pace the Spartans, who led by 18 with four minutes to go in the third before the Golden Lions (2-7) trimmed the deficit to four with about six minutes remaining.

Hempfield bounced back after a 55-53 loss to Bishop Guilfoyle on Friday. Greensburg Salem beat Greensburg Central Catholic in its tournament opener, 72-55.

“We wanted to make sure we gave a lot of effort and hustle,” said McCarthy, who had 23 points against Greensburg Salem in last year’s tournament. “We were both playing back-to-backs so we thought we might be dead-legged. We wanted to make sure their guys who aren’t their main scorers didn’t beat us.

“We are finding our chemistry and playing well together.”

Greensburg Salem senior guard Dante Parsons took it upon himself to lead the rally, scoring 15 of his team-high 21 points in the fourth quarter.

“When he gets going and gets guys 1-on-1 or 1-on-1 1/2, he is tough to stop,” Greensburg Salem coach Mark Zahorchak said of Parsons, who reached 970 career points. “We just dug ourselves too big a hole. This game tells me a lot about our guys because I challenged them. I said we’re either going to get rolled, or you’re going to start to play. They played hard all game.”

Senior Ryan Thomas gave the Golden Lions an early spark in the fourth with six of his 14 points.

Parsons hit consecutive 3s to make it 42-38 with 5:59 left, but Hempfield senior Mikey Gaffney fired in a catch-and-shoot 3 from the corner and McCarthy tipped in a miss to stretch the lead to 48-38 with 4:32 left.

“That was an enormous shot from Gaff,” Swan said. “And I have said it before: Marcus McCarthy is one of the best players in our section. We expect him to play like that. He thrives in the open court.”

Said Zahorchak: “I am not sad that McCarthy is graduating.”

A dunk by 6-foot-6 senior Shamar McCoy, a three-point play by Parsons and a 3 by junior Cade Cavanaugh allowed the Golden Lions to get within 57-52. But Hempfield sealed it with free throws and by taking time off the clock.

The Spartans made 11 of 16 free throws, all in the fourth. They also hit seven 3-pointers in the game.

Junior Christian Zilli had a hot start with nine points in the opening quarter and finished with 15 points for Hempfield.

Senior Drew Coletta added 14, seven in the fourth, including 5 of 6 free throws.

Leading 14-11, Hempfield reeled off 10-2 run in the second quarter, holding the Golden Lions to one field goal and four points, to take a 24-13 lead at the break.

“You can’t score four points against anybody in a quarter, especially against a good team like Hempfield, and expect to win,” Zahorchak said. “We needed to execute better. I have no gripes about our defense. I believe in our kids.”

McCarthy scored seven of Hempfield’s first nine points of the third to balloon the lead to 33-15.

Greensburg Salem outscored the Spartans, 13-4, the rest of the quarter to start its comeback.

Hempfield also beat the Golden Lions in the season-opening Hempfield Tip-Off Tournament, 74-59.

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

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