Without top scorer, Hampton boys to lean on defense, depth in playoffs

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Saturday, February 11, 2023 | 11:01 AM


No. 2 Hampton is getting ready to try to show it can win games with its best player in street clothes.

Junior 6-foot-4 guard Peter Kramer, the Talbots’ top scorer at 20 points per game, is ineligible for the WPIAL and PIAA boys basketball playoffs after transferring from Shady Side Academy last summer.

Hampton (17-2 overall, 8-0 in Section 1-4A as of Feb. 2) hasn’t lost since December and was expecting a top-three seed as WPIAL Class 4A pairings were set to be announced Feb. 13. The WPIAL playoffs begin as early as Feb. 16.

“Even though we’re not going to have Peter, we’re still going to be able to score and we’re going to shut teams down on defense,” senior guard Eric Weeks said. “I think we’re going to win a lot of games in the playoffs.”

According to PIAA rules, any student-athlete who transfers as a sophomore, junior or senior is ineligible for the postseason for one year in any sport he or she played prior to the transfer.

Kramer, who helped lead Shady Side Academy to the 2022 WPIAL Class 3A title, is allowed to practice with the Talbots and attend playoff games and sit on the bench, but he can’t dress for the game.

Hampton coach Joe Lafko said in late January, with five regular-season games remaining, that the Talbots, ranked No. 3 in the state, would make slight changes down the stretch to prepare for life without Kramer.

“In practice, we’ve been doing some things,” Lafko said. “But game-wise, that will be something we continue to evolve with as the end of the season takes hold.”

Moving into the starting lineup will likely be 6-foot-2 senior wing Jaden McKeekin with junior guard Alex Nyilas coming off the bench. Braxton Eastly, a 6-4 senior forward, also could see increased minutes this postseason.

It will take a group effort to offset the loss of Kramer, who excelled against top competition on the road, including scoring 37 points at section rival Highlands, 34 at WPIAL Class 5A No. 3 North Hills and 30 at WPIAL Class 6A No. 4 Butler. He scored 29 against Bethel Park and 28 against Seneca Valley in a pair of neutral-court wins.

Lafko, in his 27th season at Hampton, said adjusting for the eventual Kramer-less playoffs has “always been part of our process” as the season has progressed.

But with the Talbots riding their longest winning streak in eight years (11 in a row as of Feb. 6) and approaching their first perfect section record since 2011-12, he said they won’t look ahead.

“We live right now in the moment,” said Lafko, who earlier this season earned career victory No. 500. “We’ve really been focusing on what is next in line. When those things are something that we have to address, we will certainly be addressing those things. Right now our focus is living in the present and preparing for that.”

Hampton, whose only losses as of Feb. 6 were to WPIAL Class 5A No. 2 Peters Township and Chartiers Valley, has played suffocating defense at times. The Talbots limited Highlands, the WPIAL’s second-­highest scoring team (75.4 ppg), to an average of 54 points during their two-game section sweep.

Hampton also held four teams — Greensburg Salem (17), Shaler (27), Freeport (35) and Deer Lakes (38) — to their season-low point totals, and shut out Greensburg Salem and Shaler in the second quarter of their respective games.

“There are,” Lafko said, “a lot of good things happening right now within our season.”

While Kramer is the team’s most prodigious scorer, the Talbots have a balanced attack. Three players other than Kramer have been their leading scorer during the winning streak, including 6-8 junior center Liam Mignogna.

Many of them are capable of big games.

Weeks, who is averaging about 11 points per game, scored a season-high 24 in a victory over Plum, senior point guard Brennan Murray scored 22 against North Hills, and junior forward Robert Coll netted 16 at Butler. All told, seven Talbots have scored in double figures at least once this season.

“We can all score,” Weeks said. “We’ll make a few changes coming into the closing stretch. But I also think a lot of things are going to stay the same.”

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