Penn-Trafford boys edge Hempfield on late jumper in overtime
Zach Rocco shoots hundreds of jump shots every day, thousands every week, several thousand a month. But the majority of those are in practice.
He puts in the extra time so he can apply his skills to clutch moments, like the one he faced Tuesday night.
The Penn-Trafford junior point guard buried a pull-up jumper from just inside the foul line with 5.8 seconds to play in overtime to lift the host Warriors to a 58-56 victory over Hempfield in Section 3-6A boys basketball.
Rocco had the keys to the offense in the closing seconds and let his learned instincts take over.
“First I was looking to go to the basket, second I was looking to make a play for somebody else,” Rocco said. “And the third was the pull-up, and that’s the one that worked.”
Rocco didn’t score across the first three quarters but went for 11 in the fourth quarter and the winner in overtime for Penn-Trafford (11-7, 5-3), which has clinched a spot in the WPIAL playoffs.
“He draws it up for himself because of his work ethic,” said Jim Rocco, Zach’s father and the Warriors coach. “Because of all the skill work and all the time he puts in before and after practice, constantly working on things like that.”
Hempfield (9-10, 1-7), which suffered its fifth loss of three or fewer points, including a 49-47 defeat to Penn-Trafford earlier in the season, had an eight-point lead early and took a 26-25 lead into the half.
The lead changed hands seven times in the third quarter. The Spartans, who shot 7 of 14 from the foul line, held a precarious advantage for much of the fourth but could not get the lead above four points.
“I thought both teams played well, and we were pleased with our defense,” Hempfield senior guard Reed Hipps said. “Rocco hit some tough, contested shots. Our sophomores played great.”
Sophomore Christian Zilli scored a game-high 26 points for Hempfield. His 3-pointer with 2:28 to play in regulation gave the Spartans a 50-47 advantage.
With Hempfield up two, Rocco slashed to the rim and hit a layup with 38.2 seconds that ended up sending the game to overtime at 50-50.
“I had a rough time getting going,” Zach Rocco said. “I tried to do other things, like get guys the ball inside and play good defense.”
In overtime, the Warriors went up 54-50 on two free throws by senior forward Brayden Puskar, who had the first five points in OT.
Hempfield tied it on a tough, driving and-one by Hipps.
Senior Chris Abreu scored inside off a nice feed from Puskar to make it 56-54 with 1:20 left.
It was tied again on Zilli’s layup with 58 seconds remaining.
A couple of timeouts later, Rocco went into clutch mode to give the Warriors their first two-game winning streak since their Christmas tournament.
“You can’t win on the road in this section shooting 7 of 14 from the foul line,” Hempfield coach Bill Swan said. “We knew our kids would show up tonight and play. It’s just so tough (to lose close games). I am tired of the moral victories.”
Kevin Stinelli was held in check with 10 points, and Puskar also was held scoreless until the second half.
Sophomore Mike Hosni, who has found his way to steady minutes, added 10 points, and junior Marcus McCarthy had nine for Hempfield.
“It was fistfight,” Jim Rocco said. “You expect a Hempfield-Penn-Trafford game where teams are fighting for playoff positioning and their fate. We made a few more plays.”
Bill Beckner is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bill at [email protected] or via Twitter @BillBeckner.