Red-hot Hampton boys basketball surges out of the gate

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Saturday, January 7, 2023 | 11:01 AM


The Hampton boys basketball team is hoping a season that began with a memorable win ends with a whole bunch more.

The Talbots headed into their Section 1-4A showdown with No. 3 Highlands on Jan. 3 with a 7-2 record, the program’s best start to a season since going 12-0 in 2014-15.

A season-opening 66-60 victory over Class 6A Seneca Valley on Dec. 2 — coach Joe Lafko’s 500th career win — kicked off the early surge for the Talbots, who were No. 4 in the Trib HSSN WPIAL Class 4A Jan. 1 rankings.

“I think we’ve been playing great,” senior guard Eric Weeks said. “We’ve beaten a lot of good teams and the games that we lost, I think if we played those games again, we’d probably win. Overall, I think we’ve had a great start to our season.”

The Talbots’ quick start didn’t come at the expense of lesser-quality opponents. They defeated then-WPIAL Class 5A No. 4 North Hills, 76-74, in overtime to win the North Hills Tip-off Tournament. Other big moments during the nonsection schedule included wins over defending WPIAL Class 6A champion Fox Chapel (58-55), Class 5A Shaler (51-27) and another win over North Hills (55-48), in the consolation game of the Hampton Holiday Tournament.

All told, Hampton went 3-0 against North Hills and Fox Chapel, the 2022 WPIAL Class 6A finalists.

“I think we are off to a pretty strong start,” said assistant coach Joe Cangilla, who was running practices in early January while Lafko fought back from a respiratory virus. “We’re playing pretty well, and we’ve got multiple guys contributing in different ways. I think we are at a good point.”

The biggest contributor has been 6-foot-4 junior guard Peter Kramer, who returned to his hometown school district after playing for the past two seasons at reigning WPIAL Class 3A champion Shady Side Academy.

Kramer, ineligible this postseason because of PIAA transfer rules, is averaging a team-best 17.5 points, highlighted by a 28-point effort against Seneca Valley in Lafko’s milestone win and a 34-point, 11-rebound performance against North Hills the following night that earned him Tournament MVP honors.

“I think everything is coming around and everything is looking good,” Kramer said. “We’re figuring things out.

“Obviously, in the beginning, it was a new feeling. But I’ve played with these guys for a pretty long time and I’ve known all of them and we’re all friends off the court, which helps a lot.”

The Talbots are getting support up and down the roster. Senior point guard Brennan Murray is averaging 9 points and 6 assists. Liam Mignogna, a 6-8 junior forward, is averaging 9.5 points and 6 rebounds and earned a spot on the Hampton Holiday all-tournament team.

Weeks (11 ppg) scored a season-high 24 points against Plum, and junior forward Robert Coll reached double figures in points against Shaler and Fox Chapel.

Senior forward Jaden McMeekin came off the bench to post 10 points and 10 rebounds against Seneca Valley in the opener, as Lafko improved to 500-322 in his 33rd season, including the past 27 at Hampton. Braxton Eastly, a 6-4 senior forward, has also provided valuable minutes.

“Everyone as a team has just been playing great,” Weeks said. “It hasn’t been just one or two guys every night. We’ve gotten some big contributions from people that maybe you wouldn’t expect it from, so that’s definitely helped.”

Said Kramer, “There are a lot of guys that are doing things that don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet. Everyone is contributing a lot.”

The Talbots’ only losses through nine games were to WPIAL Class 5A No. 5 Peters Township and Class 5A No. 1 Chartiers Valley. Hampton led the top-ranked Colts by eight (37-29) at halftime of an eventual 71-63 defeat. Even the losses proved to be learning points for the Talbots.

“We definitely had some difficult games,” Kramer said. “I think the losses will help us understand that we are good, but we have so much more to achieve. We can beat anyone if we play our game.”

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