Latrobe takes down Hampton in Penguins Cup playoffs

Monday, March 4, 2019 | 10:21 PM

Latrobe opened the PIHL Penguins Cup playoffs with an emotional victory Monday night, riding the energy of a large, vocal crowd and the offensive expertise of Alex Walker.

The sophomore scored a goal and assisted on three others to lead the IceCats to a 4-1 victory over Hampton in a Class 2A first-round victory at Nevin Arena.

“Big win. Big home win. Great crowd,” Latrobe coach Josh Werner said. “It was a good team effort. We knew we had to play three solid periods, and we did. It was great.”

Walker ignited the Latrobe offense, scoring a first-period goal to give Latrobe an early 1-0 lead, then assisted on two others along the way as the IceCats dominated, outshooting Hampton, 38-15.

Latrobe (15-4-1) will meet top-seeded Pine-Richland (19-0-1) in the semifinals March 13 at RMU Island Sports Center after Pine-Richland scored an 8-4 first-round victory over Hempfield.

“There’s no pressure on us,” Werner said. “You’ve got to have a short memory. We’re going against Pine-Richland. Obviously, we’re not favored there, but we’re going to make sure we’re ready to go. We’re excited because we wanted this matchup. They’re a great team, obviously. We’ve got some practices to get ready for them.”

In the team’s most recent meeting, Pine-Richland prevailed in a shootout over Latrobe in a battle of the top two PIHL teams in the TribLive High School Sports Network’s power rankings.

Hampton coach Luke Leya was disappointed, but he credited Latrobe with being the better team this time.

“In an atmosphere like this,” he said, “they have 300 students, all in black, and they’re fired up and they’ve got energy.

“It’s up to us to use that energy to our advantage as opposed to letting our emotions dictate our play, and you saw them go up 2-0 (after the first period).”

A total of 22 penalties were called, 13 on Hampton.

Walker and his teammates were all smiles afterward, knowing they were headed to a rematch with unbeaten Pine-Richland, whose only smudge was a shootout loss to Hampton (10-8-2).

“You’ve got to get more focused before these playoff games,” Walker said. “The crowd, the atmosphere was great. It gets so loud in here. We were ready to play, and we were excited. You just want to get out there and win.”

Werner praised Walker for his quiet leadership, calling him “a gamer.”

“He comes ready to play every game,” Werner said. “He led tonight by example, and as a sophomore, not many of those guys come up. He’s a special kid and a special player. We’re happy to have him on our team.”

Michael Orban scored in the second period for Hampton.

Gage Handwork made 14 saves for the IceCats.

John Florek, Cole Novak and Jarred Stein also scored goals for Latrobe, which avenged an earlier loss to Hampton.

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