Zach Rocco’s big night carries Penn-Trafford past Hempfield

Tuesday, January 7, 2020 | 11:00 PM

Zach Rocco had a feeling he might get to the foul line a lot against Hempfield, depending on how tightly the game was officiated.

But he knew if he was hacked, it would be because of his efforts to get to the rim.

“I knew they would play physical with me, but you never know how the refs are going to call it,” the Penn-Trafford senior said. “I thought I handled it well.”

Did he ever.

This wasn’t quite “hack-a-Zach” but Hempfield did foul Rocco repeatedly as he drove the lane and drew contact. The point guard responded by making 17 of 19 free throws — for half of his points — in the Warriors’ 65-57 victory over visiting Hempfield on Tuesday night in Section 3-6A.

Rocco finished with a career-high 34 points, making 12 of 14 foul shots in the fourth and scoring 15 points over the final eight minutes for Penn-Trafford (8-3, 2-1), which broke a two-game losing streak.

Rocco also pulled down 11 rebounds. He hit a game-winning layup last year in overtime to beat Hempfield, 58-56.

“I didn’t think I took a lot of bad shots,” Rocco said. “It’s not like I’m saying to myself, ‘I gotta get 30.’ I knew if we made our foul shots and kept attacking, we would win this game. We had to keep attacking.”

The Warriors saw Hempfield (5-7, 1-2) shave an 11-point, third quarter deficit to three (43-40) at the start of the fourth, but an emotional few seconds for Hempfield swung the momentum sharply in Penn-Trafford’s favor.

Hempfield senior forward Blake Remaley was called for a foul after blocking a shot by Rocco on a driving layup. Remaley then glared at Rocco and stepped over him, which attracted the first whistle.

The second technical came after Remaley said something to Rocco within earshot of the referees.

Rocco ended up taking six free throws after the brief commotion, and he made five of them.

“It happens,” Penn-Trafford coach Jim Rocco said. “These are not disrespectful kids. A little bravado now and then is not always a bad thing. They’re high school kids competing.”

Penn-Trafford then inbounded to Zach Rocco in the corner and he buried a 3-pointer as part of a 10-0 run to stretch the lead to 57-43.

Jim Rocco was pleased with the way his son drew fouls, which simply forced Hempfield to deal with it.

The Spartans weren’t fouling because they thought Rocco would miss.

“He showed such positive resilience,” Jim Rocco said. “He had one, two, three guys running at him and did a great job with his body control. He has trained for this, games like this.”

Hempfield had built a 23-19 lead in the second quarter and trailed 30-26 at the half.

A 7-0 run by Penn-Trafford to open the second half put the Warriors ahead by 11.

“We played hard but quite simply, in 6A, playing hard doesn’t get rewarded on Tuesday and Friday nights unless you make shots,” Hempfield coach Bill Swan said. “Zach Rocco played awesome, don’t get me wrong, but he made 17 free throws. We had to decide if we were going to run off on some other guys or focus on him. We picked our poison.”

The rest of Penn-Trafford’s rotation combined for 31 points.

Junior Christian Zilli led Hempfield with 17 points and senior Marcus McCarthy had 14, all in the first half.

Junior Michael Hosni chipped in eight for the Spartans, who made 11 of 21 free throws.

Sophomore Ben Myers, a 6-foot-5 forward, had eight points and four blocks for Penn-Trafford. Sophomore Nick Crum had seven points for the Warriors.

Free throws helped keep Hempfield back, even when the Spartans cut the deficit to six twice inside the final minute.

Penn-Trafford had just two field goals in the fourth but made 16 of 24 free throws.

“We shoot a ton of them,” Jim Rocco said. “Whe it comes to free throw shooting we have accountablilty sessions. We try to make it fun.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at

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