Hempfield hopes pushing pace results in postseason push

Saturday, November 23, 2019 | 7:24 PM

Higher expectations? Yes.

Higher tempo and higher scoring? Hempfield boys basketball hopes those will lift them to loftier goals.

The Spartans bring back an experienced group from a team that went 10-12 last season, and coach Bill Swan and his players believe they have a good idea of what needs to change to make this season a winning one.

“We simply couldn’t score consistently,” Swan said of last season. “Of 18 schools in Class 6A, we gave up the fewest points per game last year, but we still went 2-8 (in Section 3). We’ve got to avoid droughts and have to try and consistently make shots.”

Hempfield allowed just 52.1 points per game last season, but it only scored 52.5, the second-lowest total in WPIAL Class 6A. The Spartans’ challenge is figuring out how to increase their offensive output while keeping the defensive number low, and much of the offseason has been spent working on it.

“We definitely had a down year last year. We underachieved and didn’t expect that to happen,” senior guard Mikey Gaffney said. “We’ve worked hard on offense, and we know what we can do on D. We’re trying to get more motion and more activeness off the ball. We also want to push and try to get other teams out of their element.”

Gaffney is part of a group of six players who spent at least part of the past two seasons in the starting lineup.

The 6-foot-3 Gaffney will share the backcourt with 5-10 senior Drew Coletta, 6-2 senior Blake Remaley and 6-3 junior Michael Hosni. In the frontcourt, the Spartans have 6-5 senior Marcus McCarthy and 6-2 junior Christian Zilli with starting experience, plus 6-2 senior Nick Suchko, who will be in the rotation.

Along with 5-10 sophomore guard Dom Hipps and 6-4 senior forward Brandon Flock, both of whom are pushing for playing time, Swan is confident in his team’s depth. Perhaps the biggest weapon for the Spartans is their positional versatility with an athletic group.

“That’s a big strength. We have our bigs, who work real hard to get up the court, and it’s easy to mix it up on offense and defense,” Coletta said. “That makes it tough on teams we play.”

Swan said: “We like guys to be able to interchange on offense, switch screens on defense. We don’t really have a tall post player, but out of that top group, the only one under 6-2 is Drew, so we have some nice length.”

But trying to pick things up on offense will require better execution — Swan said players were too reliant on 3-pointers last season when scoring dried up — as well as a change in mindset.

“We’ve been playing faster than we’ve ever played since I’ve been the coach here,” Swan said. “It’s been such a chore to score. So maybe if we get in the open floor, we’ll find things easier. But I have to be able to stand there and watch us give up some easier baskets, too.”

If Hempfield can make more shots, its players believe they can push for the top of Section 3-6A, where Latrobe is the defending champ, and runner-up Fox Chapel returns a solid group.

But most importantly to the large senior class is ending the team’s three-year run of missing the playoffs and ending their careers in the postseason.

“Our goal this season is to make the playoffs and try to win the section, and I think we have a chance to achieve it. I feel like we have scorers at all positions, who can get up and down and get easy baskets,” McCarthy said.

“We’ve grown up playing together since we were in third grade. Our team chemistry, we’re like brothers and have each other back,” Gaffney said, echoing similar comments by McCarthy and Coletta. “When we get older, and we’re still all friends, we want this season to be what we look back on.”

Matt Grubba is a contributing writer.


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