Rivals Latrobe, Hempfield meet in PIHL Class AA semifinals

Sunday, March 8, 2020 | 9:13 PM

Latrobe’s 5-2 loss to Pine-Richland in last season’s PIHL Penguins Cup Class AA semifinals stung the Wildcats.

While the Rams went on to win the Penguins Cup and state championship, the Wildcats tried to process the defeat. They hope the semifinals go better this postseason when they take on rival Hempfield at 7 p.m. Wednesday at RMU Island Sports Center.

“They are a well-rounded team, and they’re getting good goaltending. It’ll be a tough test,” Latrobe coach Josh Werner said of Hempfield. “Whatever happened during the regular season, it doesn’t matter now. It’s a whole different team we’ll be facing in a do-or-die situation. We have to make sure we’re preparing correctly for that.”

Latrobe (17-2) swept the Spartans (12-7) during the regular season. The Wildcats posted a 7-0 win Oct. 17 and doubled up Hempfield, 6-3, on Feb. 13.

“We’re looking forward to getting in there and playing a tight game,” Hempfield coach Eric Grant said. “They beat us twice, but we’re looking to be stronger and faster, and we’ll see what we can do to get past them. It’ll be a tough slog, but we’ll give it our very best.”

Latrobe, which went unbeaten in the Southeast Division, opened the postseason as the No. 2 seed. The Wildcats upended Armstrong, 6-2, in the quarterfinals. Latrobe fell behind, 1-0, in that game, which gave the team flashbacks to 2018 when Quaker Valley posted a 1-0 overtime upset victory in the quarterfinals.

This time, the Wildcats came storming back as Alex Schall and Darick Hrtyanski scored in a 21-second span. Schall added another, and Cole Ferri gave the team a 4-1 lead after the first.

“It was a good performance. It was nice — a great effort by the boys. We knew Armstrong would come out and give us a good fight. For them to score that first goal and us dealing with adversity, I loved the way we responded. It was a good team win,” Werner said. “That first one is always tough. That loss to Quaker Valley still kind of haunts us. We didn’t want that to happen, but it was a thought that lingered in our minds. We used that experience to our advantage in preparing for this first game with our home crowd behind us. It was a good win, and we’re happy to get it over with and now we’re focused only on Hempfield.”

Latrobe led Class AA with 106 goals and that offensive depth was apparent against Armstrong. All three of the team’s lines scored as Allen Rider and Alex Walker netted goals in the second period.

“That shows all of our lines are creating opportunities and taking advantage of them,” Werner said. “As a coaching staff, that’s what you like to see, especially now. We want every line to be dangerous. They were able to take advantage of what the created Monday night.”

Likewise, Hempfield faced a 1-0 deficit in its game against Plum. However, the Spartans answered and were able to pull out a 4-3 overtime win.

“It was a good overtime win. Our guys had a lot of shots once again,” Grant said. “We had a really nice lead and gave up a couple of goals but were able to pull out the win. Plum is a good team, and they will be good for years to come, so it was a nice win. Our goaltending is getting better, too, so that’s good.”

Hempfield showed its offensive diversity as well. Four Spartans — Hunter Smiles, Tristan Lloyd, Trent Gray and Aiden Dunlap — produced goals. The team lost forward Zach Ridilla, who exited the game with a concussion. He ranked fourth on the team with 23 points, behind Matt Traczynski (31 goals, 50 points), Christian Konieczka (12, 36) and Gray (8, 25).

“Zach was on our top line, so we’ll have to move someone up to pick up his spot,” Grant said. “We are pretty deep, so I think we can handle that.”

The winner will face the victor of the Mars-Baldwin game, which is the nightcap of Wednesday’s doubleheader.

“In Class AA, any team can beat anyone. You just don’t know from night to night. You have to take everyone seriously, play hard and see what happens,” Grant said. “It’s great competition. No matter what happens on Wednesday, this Class AA has been excellent for competition this year. That’s what all of us want.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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