Top-5 Hempfield boys show they belong with gritty win over Norwin

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Friday, January 22, 2021 | 10:28 PM


Hempfield is neither shying away nor hiding from the Class 6A boys basketball rankings. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

No downplaying going on here.

The Spartans are embracing their first visit to the Tribune-Review top five since 2015.

“I made a copy of the rankings and passed them out to all our guys,” Hempfield coach Bill Swan said. “We’re proud of it, and I am proud of our guys for getting there.”

Hempfield, which checked in at No. 4 this week, intends to stay in the WPIAL conversation, even if it takes nail-biters such as the one the Spartans encountered Friday night to do it.

Team defense reigned for Hempfield in a gritty 51-50 victory at Norwin.

Senior Michael Hosni made 1 of 2 free throws with 3.6 seconds remaining to put the Spartans (3-2, 3-1) ahead by one in the tight Section 3-6A matchup.

Sophomore Adam Bilinsky nearly banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer for Norwin (3-3, 1-3). Instead, Hempfield celebrated its third win in four games.

“I just wanted to get it over the rim,” said Hosni, who had missed 5 of 7 free throws before calmly sinking the go-ahead shot.

“I knew our defense would get a stop. We have so much trust in each other on defense.”

Christian Zilli, who had four 3-pointers and a game-high 15 points for Hempfield, agreed with that assessment in the grind-it-out-performance.

“Since Day 1, we have put our focus on defense,” the senior guard said. “We knew if we wanted to compete and win, our defense would have to be the difference.”

Junior Sean Gordon added 12 points, and junior Joe Fiedor had 10 — eight in the second half — for Hempfield.

Norwin coach Buddy Valinsky thought his players should have been more enthusiastic, more animated, with the game on the line.

“I can’t play for them,” Valinsky said. “We didn’t have any energy, and that is disappointing to see. We need to be up for these kind of games, and we weren’t tonight. We were on our heels all night.”

In a game that saw 13 lead changes and six ties — neither team led by more than six — Hempfield clung to a slim advantage in the fourth. Zilli hit a 3 to make it 44-40, and Fiedor scored off a backdoor cut to keep the lead at four.

But Norwin cut it to one four times down the stretch, with senior Ty Bilinsky finally pulling the Knights even at 48-48 with a 3 from the top of the key with three minutes left.

Zilli made a free throw, and Hosni followed to make it 50-48 with 48.2 to play.

Ty Bilinsky then sank a pair of free throws with 11.4 to make it 50-50 before Hosni’s final trip to the line.

“We didn’t shoot it well. We were 5 of 11 from the foul line,” Swan said. “We had shots go in and out all night. Norwin is a really good team. But our kids fought and clawed and stayed and stayed and pulled it out.”

Amazingly, Ty Bilinsky played his second game of the season since suffering a stroke Dec. 27. He had five straight points in the second quarter after he checked in off the bench. He finished with 12, tying his brother for a team high.

Adam Bilinsky had eight after halftime. Sophomore Kaleb Pryor added nine points for the Knights.

“Ty is a gamer, and we’re glad he’s playing again,” Valinsky said.

Said Hosni: “After all he’s been through, it was great to see him out there.”

Hempfield, which cracked the Tribune-Review rankings after two straight wins — one against Central Catholic, and a near-upset of No. 1 Upper St. Clair — made four 3-pointers in the third quarter — all of its points in the period — to pull even with the Knights heading to the fourth.

Norwin, which was coming off wins over Berlin Brothersvalley and Penn-Trafford, went up 22-20 late in the second quarter on a 3 from Ty Bilinsky before Zilli made a 3 to put the Spartans ahead 23-22 at the half.

Norwin’s post players, seniors Jaden Walker and Nick Fleming, were limited and combined for four points. The matchup featured two of the tallest teams in the section.

“We have to be tougher,” Valinsky said. “We want to work the ball inside more, more high-low. We have to work on it in practice. Hempfield was tougher tonight.”

Junior Michael Fleming scored Norwin’s first eight in the opening quarter as both teams shot a high percentage. Fleming, who scored 27 points and made five 3-pointers Tuesday against Penn-Trafford, finished with 11.

The teams combined for 14 3s, eight by Hempfield.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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