Hempfield rallies from behind then holds off Penn-Trafford late

Friday, January 15, 2021 | 10:24 PM

Hempfield picked up its defensive tempo late in the first half and carried the upsurge into the second half, rallying from 12 down early to finally overtake Penn-Trafford and hand the Warriors their first loss, 54-51, on Friday night in Section 3-6A boys basketball.

“I think our pressure at the end of the first half was big,” Hempfield coach Bill Swan said. “That really turned the tide. We were happy at the half because we were playing better. ‘Hoz’ hit a big shot for us, and ‘Zil’ hit some big ones, too. And Sean Gordon can heat it up offensively.”

While seniors Michael Hosni and Christian Zilli are the one-two scoring punch most nights for Hempfield (2-1, 2-1), Gordon helped them form a big three Friday. The junior made four 3-pointers — three in the third quarter — and tied a game-high with 16 points, and Hosni and Zilli had 14 and 12, respectively.

The trio combined for 24 points in the second half. Penn-Trafford scored 21 as a team after halftime.

The Spartans closed the second and third quarters with momentum.

“We got better shots in the second half,” Hosni said. “And we started to hit big shots.”

Penn-Trafford (3-1, 1-1) led until late in the third quarter, going ahead 36-26, but that’s when Hempfield started to chip away. Gordon made two 3s in a row, and Hosni connected on two straight 3s, the second igniting the Spartans for the stretch run.

Hosni delivered from the corner with 7 seconds left in the third to cap an 8-0 run and make it 41-40. Penn-Trafford tied it on a free throw by junior Nick Crum to open the fourth, but Zilli made back-to-back pull-up jumpers to put the Spartans ahead to stay.

“We were a little stale offensively in the third quarter,” Penn-Trafford coach Doug Kelly said. “We had some breakdowns defensively. We’ve been playing pretty good defense, but tonight wasn’t our best.”

Early in the fourth, senior Niheim Lewis hit a 3, and junior Joey Fiedor drove the lane and scored to extend the Spartans’ advantage to 50-43.

Junior 6-foot-6 forward Ben Myers, who was forced to step out and guard as part of Hempfield’s gameplan, taking him away from the rim more frequently, scored inside, and senior guard Josh Kapcin made consecutive baskets off steals to slim the lead to 51-49 with 1 minute, 18 seconds to play.

Kapcin had eight of his 16 points in the fourth to lead the Warriors, and junior Noah Wright had 14 and Myers 12.

“I thought our man-to-man was great in the second half,” Swan said. “We did a nice job on Myers.”

Zilli made two free throws, and Kapcin drove in again to again close the gap to 53-51 with 1:04 remaining.

Both teams came in off impressive wins Tuesday. Hempfield upset No. 4 Central Catholic, 65-53, racking up 46 points in the second half. The Spartans recently saw the return of Zilli to the lineup, which has boosted the offense.

“We were confident coming in,” Hosni said.

Penn-Trafford, meanwhile, kept plugging along with a 63-61 victory over Fox Chapel in overtime. The Warriors, who started 5-0 last season, are relying on team defense, crisp ball movement and sharing the basketball.

“I thought we scored enough to win the game,” Kelly said. “We have to find a better way to get guys shots. We had some empty possessions and that led to transition for them.”

The Warriors returned four starters in senior guards Kapcin and Chase Vecchio, Crum and Myers. All had a hand in a first half that saw the Warriors build a 12-point lead.

Wright also had something to say about that. He hit 4 of 5 3-pointers, including three in the second quarter, as the Warriors built a 28-16 lead. His consecutive 3s quelled a 6-0 run by the Spartans to open the quarter.

Hempfield, though, ended the second on a 7-2 run, including a 3 from Zilli, to trim the margin to 30-23 at the break.

Zilli and Hosni, who scored 26 Tuesday, accounted for 56% of the Spartans’ points last season. The pair has been getting help as the Spartans try to use a deep bench to pick up the pace offensively.

Zilli said in the preseason Hempfield could surprise some teams because “nobody has any film on us,” referring to a new-look rotation. They do now, and it also includes clips of Gordon, who sparked the Spartans.

“We want him to shoot it,” Swan said. “You see what he can do.”

Hempfield has a quick turnaround. The Spartans host No. 1 Upper St. Clair (4-0) at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.

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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