‘Hempfield way’ produces impressive win against Penn-Trafford

Tuesday, February 9, 2021 | 9:44 PM

Every time Penn-Trafford picked at Hempfield’s double-digit lead and began to close the gap, the Spartans had an answer.

When asked about his team’s ability to fend off the visiting Warriors, senior guard Christian Zilli had an answer.

“We talked in the locker room, and we said, ‘If we get up 10, we want to be up 20,’ ” Zilli said. “But if they got close, we knew we could grind it out. It’s the Hempfield way.”

No. 5 Penn-Trafford dwindled a 14-point lead to five with 50 seconds to play, but the fourth-ranked Spartans held on for a 58-51 victory Tuesday night in Section 3-6A.

Zilli finished with a game-high 17 points and made 11 of 11 free throws, including 8 of 8 in the fourth quarter when the Warriors (7-5, 3-4) outscored the host Spartans (7-3, 6-2), 26-21.

Senior Chase Vecchio fired in a 3-pointer from the far corner to cut Hempfield’s advantage to 50-45, but Zilli and junior Mike Hosni were a perfect 8 of 8 at the line in the final 50 seconds to keep Hempfield in control.

Hempfield swept Penn-Trafford, the first win 54-51 at Harrison City. Penn-Trafford has played five games that were decided by four points or less.

The Spartans trailed by 12 at Penn-Trafford before rallying in the second half. Penn-Trafford had to mount the comeback this time but to no avail.

“This is a big win tonight for seeding purposes,” Hempfield coach Bill Swan said. “Our kids fought. (Zilli) and (Hosni) banged in some big ones there at the end. I thought our kids defended really well again tonight. We don’t care how we get it done. We’re confident, but we’re humble.”

Hosni scored 11, and junior Joey Fiedor and junior Sean Gordon had 10 apiece for Hempfield.

Penn-Trafford senior guard Josh Kapcin was fouled on a basket and made the free throw to get the Warriors within 41-30, and junior guard Nick Crum scored on a break to get the margin below double figures.

Crum scored 13 points, junior forward Ben Myers had 12 and Kapcin 11.

But Gordon flashed open in the corner and buried a 3 to make it 44-32, and the Spartans stayed ahead by double figures until about a minute left. Myers made it 50-42 on two free throws before Vecchio’s 3.

Zilli’s two free throws with 20.8 made it 56-46. Crum hit a 3 in the closing seconds for the final score.

“We played with a lot of energy on defense,” Zilli said. “That becomes the focus for us. That leads to offense.”

Hempfield outscored the Warriors in the third, 15-8, stretching the lead to 12 (37-25) on a hard drive and score by junior guard Joey Fiedor.

Penn-Trafford got the margin under double digits on two free throws by senior guard Jarred Schoffstall and a jumper by Kapcin. But Zilli was fouled on a layup — he leaned in and tried to hang in the air to draw contact — to make it 35-25 with 1 minute, 35 seconds left in the third.

“Someone asked me if we’re any good or if teams are down,” Swan said. “I think we’re better than I thought we’d be. Our kids play hard, and I know I have to draw up Xs and Os to get ready for some good people every night. There are a lot of even teams.”

The Spartans took a 22-17 lead into halftime after a physical first half where both teams ran halfcourt sets. There were more backcourt cuts than fouls. The Spartans went ahead 15-5, but the Warriors reeled off 10 straight points but could not pull ahead despite tying it twice in the second quarter.

Hempfield opened with an 11-2 run and limited the Warriors to five points in the first quarter.

“They were just more physical, more crisp, executed better and made shots and free throws,” Penn-Trafford coach Doug Kelly said. “And they destroyed us on the boards.”

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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