Perfect ending as Latrobe routs Hempfield to finish unbeaten in section
Latrobe wasn’t about to let Hempfield spoil its first perfect section championship or its postgame net-cutting ceremony on its home floor.
It’s shiny, new floor the team has grown quite fond of.
The top-ranked Wildcats trotted out the ladder and drew the scissors after holding off desperate Hempfield, 75-50, in the Section 3-6A boys basketball finale before a standing-room only crowd Friday night at “the Den.”
Senior Bryce Butler scored 32 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, and sophomore Ryan Sickenberger added a season-high 19 points and three 3-pointers, to lead the Wildcats (18-2, 10-0), who finished the season 8-0 at home.
“We had this huge crowd here tonight, and we didn’t want to let them down,” Butler said. “Hempfield gave us their best punch early, but we came out after halftime and put it back to them.”
Latrobe ran its winning streak to 10 and will head to the WPIAL playoffs for the seventh straight time.
It has won a section in four of the last five years and is 52-8 in its last 60 home games.
“I remember about 10 years ago to the day, we had a chance to (win the section),” said Latrobe coach Brad Wetzel, in his 18th season. “I remember my girls crying in the lobby. There was a kicked ball that took it away from us. It was different tonight. It was time to celebrate. It was a long time coming. It’s funny how things can turn around.”
Facing a must-win, Hempfield (10-12, 2-8) was trying to get into the playoffs for the first time since 2015-16.
The Spartans, who did not win two games in a row since the Greensburg Salem holiday tournament, hung around early before the Wildcats finally got running.
“You try to take away Bryce and Reed (Fenton),” Hempfield coach Bill Swan said. “But it’s so hard to stop them all. We finished (the season) strong. We had four games in seven days and competed in all of them. Brad does a great job with this team.”
Sophomore Christian Zilli finished with 14 points, and junior Marcus McCarthy added 11 for Hempfield.
Senior guard Reed Hipps, a Saint Vincent recruit, played through back pain to score nine for the Spartans.
Butler, a West Liberty recruit, scored 12 in the fourth quarter as the Wildcats slowly pulled away from the pesky Spartans. He made all eight of his free throws in the final eight minutes.
Fenton, a Lehigh recruit who was questionable with a sore knee, played and gave the Wildcats eight points.
A full-court press helped Latrobe speed up the game.
“We handled their pressure well at times,” Swan said. “Our guys need to be better coached there.”
Hempfield had cut it to 56-46 on a drive and score by Mikey Gaffney.
The Spartans had a big second quarter to turn a 12-point deficit around and cut it to 32-29 by the half.
Hempfield outscored the Wildcats, 18-9, in the quarter, and McCarthy and Zilli paced the offense.
Latrobe regained its grasp in the third, gaining separation by opening the quarter on a 12-2 run to take a 45-31 lead.
Hempfield was held without a field goal in the third until Zilli’s breakaway layup with 1:50 left to cut it to 48-34.
“We made a lot of hustle plays,” Butler said. “We knew Reed was hurt, but he is a warrior. We kept calm because we knew he could do other things (than score).”
Butler outscored Hempfield himself in the opening quarter 13-11 as Latrobe took a 23-11 advantage.
The student sections and the players in warm-ups wore purple to honor the memory of recently deceased Hempfield teacher and Latrobe resident Kathy Soisson.
Bill Beckner is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bill at [email protected] or via Twitter @BillBeckner.