Latrobe edges Hempfield to earn spot in PIHL Penguins Cup Class AA final

Wednesday, March 11, 2020 | 9:32 PM

Latrobe is heading back to the PIHL Penguins Cup Class AA championship.

The Wildcats scored early in the third and held on for a 3-2 win over Hempfield on Wednesday night at RMU Island Sports Center.

“It feels unbelievable just to pull this one out,” Latrobe’s Alex Walker said. “Once we got that third goal, we shut them down, and it’s an unbelievable feeling.”

Latrobe (18-2) plays Mars or Baldwin Monday at 6 p.m. for the Penguins Cup at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex in Cranberry Township. The Wildcats are seeking their fifth Penguins Cup and first since 2013.

“It’s incredible,” Walker said. “We’ll be ready to go. I’ll be buzzing out there, for sure.”

Walker was buzzing against the Spartans (12-8). He gave Latrobe a 1-0 lead with 4 minutes, 32 seconds left in the first period. Cole Ferri’s shot from the near point deflected off Hempfield goaltender Joe Behler to Walker at the near post. He slammed it in for the score.

Walker boosted the lead to 2-0 39 seconds into the second period. His wrister from the near faceoff circle sailed over Behler’s right shoulder and into the top far corner of the goal.

Hempfield raced back with a pair of goals in 56 seconds. Matt Traczynski got the Spartans on the scoreboard when he took a Hunter Smiles feed at the near post and slammed in the puck 5:31 into the second.

Nick Bruno tied the score when a long pass sent him on a breakaway. He slid the puck past Latrobe goaltender Greg Irons for a 2-2 tie with 10:33 remaining in the second.

“When they scored those two goals, it felt like they had the momentum,” Walker said. “We had to get it back, and we just had to shut them down and not give them any chances to score a goal. We have a bunch of older kids on the team and a lot of seniors. They paved the way, and we followed their lead.”

The Wildcats applied offensive pressure early in the third period. They finally cashed in when Alex Schall put the Wildcats ahead 3-2 with 10:23 to play. Positioned in front of the goal, Schall deflected Lane Ruffer’s blast from the far point into the net.

“As we’ve preached all year, we wanted to get guys in front of the net looking for tips and rebounds,” Latrobe coach Josh Werner said. “When it counted most, we were there. I am proud of the boys. They worked hard.”

The Spartans had a chance to tie the score when they went on a power play with 5:01 to go, but Latrobe killed it off to preserve the lead.

“Taking a penalty late in a game is always tough,” Walker said. “But, with this group of guys, I know we can finish it off. That’s what we did today and what we need to do.”

Hempfield pulled Behler in the final minute for an extra attacker and had one good scoring chance, but Irons denied a point-blank shot.

“We work on everything. The drills we run on based on game situations. It comes in handy in a situation like this,” Hempfield coach Eric Grant said. “I am so proud of them. I could explode. It’s a (heck) of a team on this side and a (heck) of a team on that other side. I’ve coached half of Latrobe’s team in one way or another in club hockey. What’s great is to have two teams out of the same barn play in this game at this point in the season. Hopefully, there are many more.

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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