‘Special group’ propels Hampton to memorable season

Saturday, March 18, 2023 | 11:01 AM

The motto for the Hampton boys basketball team this season was “to live in the moment.”

The Talbots did just that, and it turned out the moments were many.

“It was a great year,” coach Joe Lafko said. “We accomplished a lot. … I’m just so proud of the way the boys responded to a lot of situations.

“They are a special group to me.”

The Talbots’ season ended with a 57-50 loss to Laurel Highlands on March 14 in the PIAA Class 4A second round, but not before Hampton put together one of the winningest seasons in program history.

Only two years removed from a forgettable 4-16 showing, the Talbots won their first section title in 11 years, earned their first PIAA playoff victory since 2014 and became only the sixth Hampton team in the past quarter-century to win at least 24 games.

Consider this: The Talbots won more postseason games this season (five) than they won total games in 2020-21, when the current seniors were sophomores.

“We battled game in and game out,” senior guard Brennan Murray said. “I thought we played really well this year.”

The season began with a milestone, as Lafko earned his 500th career victory in a 66-60 win over Seneca Valley in the Dec. 2 opener.

With Shady Side Academy transfer Peter Kramer leading the way, the Talbots’ regular season included a 15-game winning streak — the longest since the 2011-12 team won 16 in a row — and a 10-0 mark in Section 1-4A.

But the No. 4-seeded Talbots would face adversity and heartbreak in the WPIAL playoffs. They were without Kramer, ineligible for the postseason because of PIAA transfer rules, and then Feb. 20, the same day as the Talbots’ first-round playoff game with Blackhawk, Lafko’s mom, Bernie, died at age 85. The players found out before the game.

“When we got to the gym, (Lafko) wasn’t there and our assistant coach told the team,” junior forward Liam Mignogna said. “That was awful.”

The Talbots went on to beat Blackhawk, 65-50, and following a 58-41 loss to section rival Highlands in the WPIAL quarterfinals, the Talbots, with Lafko at his mother’s funeral mass, defeated South Allegheny behind senior guard Eric Weeks’ 29 points to clinch a PIAA playoff berth.

“If there is a lesson for me … it is that you are never guaranteed anything in the future,” Lafko said. “We chose to live in the moment.”

The Talbots defeated District 10 champion Grove City, 61-44, on March 10 for their first PIAA victory in nine years.

Lafko, who finished his 33rd season with a 523-326 record, will return Kramer, Mignogna, junior guard/forward Robert Coll and junior guard Alex Nyilas next season.

But the loss to Laurel Highlands marked the final game for a quartet of seniors — Murray, Weeks, guard/forward Jaden McMeekin and forward Braxton Eastly.

“After the game, especially with the seniors, you could tell that they recognized some finality,” Lafko said. “There was definitely some sadness. But we took a moment to reflect on how much they have accomplished and how proud they can be.”

Victory Lane

Only three Hampton teams in the past 25 years have won more games in a season than the 2022-23 Talbots

Season, Record

2005-06, 25-4

2011-12, 25-5

2008-09, 25-5

2022-23, 24-4

2009-10, 24-4

2013-14, 24-5


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