Playoff heartbreaker ends eventful season for Hampton girls

Saturday, February 24, 2024 | 11:01 AM

A season of ups and downs came to an end for the Hampton girls basketball team Feb. 20 with a loss to No. 2 seed McKeesport in the first round of the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs.

“Our girls put forth a great effort after a good week of preparation,” said coach Tony Howard. “The girls did a tremendous job at keeping their emotions in check and staying focused on the task. I’m really happy with our execution.”

Going into the playoff game, the Talbots (12-11, 6-6) knew they would need to be solid defensively if they would have a chance. They nearly pulled off the upset, losing a close contest 49-46.

The Talbots outscored McKeesport 14-5 in the opening quarter and held a 25-23 lead at the half.

“We had a great plan going in, had some scripted plays for what we thought they might run on offense and the girls made some open shots, which gave us some momentum,” Howard said.

After McKeesport stormed back in the third quarter to take the lead, Hampton retook the lead and extended it to six but just couldn’t close the deal.

Kent State recruit Meghan Murray led the Talbots with 24 points.

Hampton’s season had a rough beginning. Most of the players were still in the throes of a state volleyball playoff run when practices for basketball season began.

Howard knew it would take time for the team to come together and knew the first few games would be a rough stretch.

“Once I had everybody, we only had five practices before the first game was upon us,” said Howard. “We were trying to get everyone on the same page in a small amount of time.”

The Talbots were 2-5 a week before Christmas, still looking for any cohesiveness.

They found what they were looking for on a trip to San Diego for a tournament Dec. 27-29.

The girls, who are friends off the court, bonded even more, said Howard, and he credits his seniors for their leadership during the trip.

“The high character that the seniors brought helped the other girls sort of relax and be who they are and they started playing well together,” said Howard.

Hampton went 3-0 in San Diego and finally found the groove it was looking for as the girls settled into their roles.

When they returned home and the calendar flipped, the Talbots won six of their next seven games, including a 5-1 stretch against section foes that helped them build up enough wins to contend for a playoff spot.

“Our section, almost every game was each team beating one another up,” said Howard. “Every game was a grind-it-out, six- or eight-point game. For us to get those five in that stretch gave us some breathing room in case some of those games in the second half of the year didn’t go our way.”

It was a good thing they were able to bank those wins because the Talbots finished the season with a 1-4 stretch with all their losses coming against teams in their section.

Howard said it was due to teams figuring out what Hampton was doing and the fact that much of the scoring they produced during their winning streak vanished.

“At times during that stretch, scoring became a struggle for us,” he added. “We didn’t get enough easy baskets; you need some layups, transition shots and foul shots. Teams took that away from us.”

The playoff loss marks the end of the high school basketball careers of all five starting seniors.

The Talbots were led all year by Murray, who finished her stellar career with 1,537 points, setting the school’s all-time scoring record. She finished the year leading the team in points per game with 22, rebounds with 5.7 and 5.5 assists.

“Her defensive presence really came through for us and her leadership shined through all year,” said Howard. “Offensively, she always comes back with an improved skill, but there are intangible things that she’s developed that she’ll need at the next level.”

Senior Kathleen Milon was second on the team with 10.3 points per game and was named to the all-section second team.

“Kathleen was kind of in the shadows of Meghan a little bit,” said Howard. “But she was our lockdown defensive player. Both her and Meghan stepped in since they were freshmen and contributed to the varsity from day one.”

Hampton also found a much-needed third scorer in Emma Rick, who provided another double-digit threat.

“You need a third scorer when you get in these high-level section and playoff games, and I think Emma did a nice job at becoming that third scoring threat for us,” said Howard.

Rounding out the rest of the senior group were center McKenna Andrews, who did an admirable job filling the hole left by departed graduate Claire Rodgers, and forward Sterling Thomson.

Howard is proud of his seniors and knows their leadership will be missed, but they left their mark on what will be a young team in the next couple years.

“I keep telling them that their success is leaving footprints for these younger kids,” Howard said. “I can’t commend them enough for them for the culture they built and the examples they left for the younger kids while they were here.”


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