Kiski Area beats host Hempfield at WCCA Showcase

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Saturday, December 9, 2023 | 7:34 PM


Corey Smith stepped out of the locker room, took a deep breath and came to the realization his team was fortunate to leave Hempfield with a victory.

Fortunate to escape, even.

A collective swipe across the brow was in line for Kiski Area after this one.

“We went 1-0 today,” said Smith, the Cavaliers’ boys basketball coach. “”It was ugly, but we won.”

Kiski Area won for the fourth time in five games despite having one player score all the points in the fourth quarter and despite giving away a double-digit lead.

The Cavaliers held back host Hempfield, 55-49, in the Westmoreland County Coaches Association Showcase Saturday at the Spartan Field House.

Senior Isaiah Gonzalez scored all 10 of Kiski Area’s points in the final stanza, including 6 of 6 free throws (7 for 7 for the game), on the way to a game-high 20 points. The Cavaliers had an 11-point lead late in the first half and had to repel the Spartans (1-3), who led briefly in the third and tied it up late.

“We weren’t expecting that,” Gonzalez said. “We came together when we needed to. We picked it up.”

It was the third straight matchup against a Class 6A opponent for the Cavaliers (4-1), who play in 5A.

They beat New Castle and lost to No. 1 Butler before facing the Spartans (1-3), who have scored 227 points and allowed 225 so far.

“The more 6A teams we play, the better,” Gonzalez said.

Said Smith: “We came out a little lackadaisical. That was our sixth day of basketball in a row and our third game this week.”

After Hempfield pulled even at 49-49 on a hard-charging layup by senior Caden Biondi with 3 minutes and 7 seconds remaining, Gonzalez made two free throws.

Hempfield had two chances to tie and and maybe take the lead but sophomore Danny Husentis, who made four 3-pointers for a career-high 14 points, missed a layup off a steal with 50 seconds left, and 6-foot-6 junior Maximus Williams’ shot inside didn’t fall on another possession.

Hempfield inbounded near midcourt, but junior Carson Heinle intercepted a pass as he fell to the floor and the Cavaliers regained possession with 32.9 seconds left.

“Carson gave us a spark off the bench,” Smith said.

Gonzalez made four more free throws to seal it from there.

“There were 14 (teams) in this showcase, and Kiski Area is by far the best team,” Hempfield coach Bill Swan said. “They’re one of the best teams in the county. That’s the best Kiski team I have seen.”

After a tight first quarter, Kiski Area built a 32-21 lead in the second, despite heat from the Spartans.

“We need to go back and correct some mistakes we made today,” Smith said. “We didn’t play our best. We weathered the storm. To get to where we want to get, we have to be better at the little things.”

Junior Drew Gordon, who led Hempfield with 19 points, had back-to-back layups on fast breaks to get Hempfield within 24-19, but Gonzalez and junior Collin Keller hit 3-pointers to stretch the advantage to 11.

Gordon nailed a 3 to get Hempfield within 32-26 at the half.

“We needed to hit more shots,” Gordon said. “We played good defense but committed some turnovers that hurt us.”

Husenits made a 3, and Gordon drove in for a layup as Hempfield opened the third on an 8-2 run to take its first lead at 35-34 with four minutes left in the quarter.

But an 8-0 spurt for the Cavaliers, including a three-point play from senior Owen Pearson, and a 3 from Keller, put the Cavaliers back up by seven (42-35).

Pearson finished with 18 points.

Husenits made two 3s in the first four minutes of the fourth, the second to pull the Spartans to within 49-47 with 4:40 left before Biondi tied it.

“We guarded really well, really hard,” Swan said. “When people pressure us, that opens things up for some of our guys.

“We have to work at making more winning plays.”

Hempfield was 6 of 14 from the free-throw line. Kiski Area made 12 of 14 from the stripe.

Williams finished with eight points, and Keller had eight for the Cavaliers.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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