In midst of 5-game losing streak, Hempfield boys on edge of playoff contention
It is a rarity in recent years that the Hempfield boys basketball team has fallen short of the WPIAL playoffs. Count this season as one of those frustrating times for the Spartans, who have lost five consecutive games and nine of 10 to fall six games under .500.
They are in danger of missing the playoffs for the second time in eight seasons. The Spartans are 5-11 after a 73-65 nonsection loss to District 6 Altoona on Wednesday.
In the midst of a five-day layoff, the Spartans are preparing to enter a critical stretch.
“We’ve struggled at times, but I’m proud of the guys we have on the team this year,” Hempfield coach Bill Swan said. “They’ve played hard for the most part. We lost a lot from last year’s team.”
Back-to-back Section 1-AAAA games at Connellsville on Tuesday and Wednesday at home against Penn-Trafford kick off Hempfield’s final five regular-season games, which conclude with a home contest Feb. 5 against top-ranked and unbeaten Latrobe.
The Wildcats scored a 71-43 victory over Hempfield on Jan. 13 in the teams’ first meeting of the season.
Hempfield (3-4 in section) holds down the final playoff spot in Section 1-AAAA but was leading fifth-place Kiski Area by 1 1⁄2 games.
“It takes time to rebuild,” Swan said. “Our guys have gotten better, but you don’t just flip over a roster like that.”
The Spartans, who have won four section titles in a row and have missed the playoffs just once in the past seven seasons, were forced to replace, among others, high-scoring forward Kason Harrell, the Tribune-Review’s Westmoreland Player of the Year in 2015.
The 6-foot-4 Harrell is a freshman at IPFW, which was 15-5 and leading the Summit League entering Thursday.
Among the Spartans’ other departures was 6-7 post player Tony Pilato.
Hempfield, coming off back-to-back 21-win seasons, will make a push down the stretch for a return to the playoffs, Swan said. But he hopes the team can improve in a hurry in several areas, particularly at the free-throw line, where the Spartans struggled during a recent two-game stretch and made just 17 of 44 attempts.
“Overall, when we’ve shot the ball well, we’ve played well,” Swan said.
At least, the results have been more favorable, he said.
With Harrell & Co. gone, Hempfield’s 17-man roster includes 10 underclassmen. Senior Mitch Golden leads the Spartans in scoring.
“We’re hoping our younger guys have been benefiting by the opportunities they’ve been getting this year,” Swan said. “The seniors have done a great job of leading the way. I’m really proud of them.”
Dave Mackall is a freelance writer.
Renatta Signorini is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Renatta at 724-837-5374, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .