Hempfield big man plays big role in victory against Kiski Area

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Sitting courtside at Hempfield High School on Tuesday night was Spartans coach Jim Nesser's brother, Isaac, a former world weightlifting champion nicknamed "Dr. Size."

On the court, Hempfield's own big man -- dubbed "Big T" -- did the heavy lifting necessary for the Spartans to keep alive their push for a section title.

Tony Pilato, a 6-foot-7, 290-pound sophomore, scored a game-high 21 points in helping Hempfield end Kiski Area's 10-game winning streak with a 51-44 triumph in a Class AAAA Section 1 game.

The win allowed Hempfield (15-5, 8-3) to remain in contention for the section title. Kiski Area (15-5, 9-3) already clinched at least a share for the first time since 2001-02, but Hempfield can force a tie by winning Friday at Latrobe. It would be Hempfield's third section title in four years.

"It's a good feeling," Nesser said. "It's now become a one-game season for us."

Pilato played a big part -- literally and figuratively -- in making it that way. Pilato was too much for Kiski Area to handle down low. He set the tone early with 12 points in the first quarter. All of his field goals were within several feet of the basket, as he continually gained position on the low block. When Pilato's teammates fed him the ball, he delivered.

"I got started quick and then kept building confidence," said Pilato, who scored 12 points when Kiski Area defeated Hempfield, 39-35, Jan. 11.

In the rematch, Hempfield did a better job getting the ball to Pilato, and he made a smaller Kiski Area team pay.

"He was real good," said Kiski Area coach Harry Rideout. "Our post guys are undersized. We struggle with size."

Hempfield's other key sophomore, 6-3 guard Kason Harrell, added 15 points. Harrell, considered one of the top sophomores in the WPIAL, was 6 of 6 from the free-throw line and scored seven points in the fourth quarter. He leads the Spartans in scoring with 16 points per game.

Joe Brungo led Kiski Area with 12 points. Leading scorer Nick Stone, who averages 15 a game, was held to four.

As dominant as Pilato was early, it was Kiski Area which owned a 20-14 lead a minute into the second quarter. Hempfield, though, went on a 15-2 run to go ahead 29-22 when Harrell scored on a runner with 49 seconds left in the half.

Hempfield outscored Kiski Area, 10-7, in the third quarter to extend its lead to 39-32. The advantage grew to as many as 10 points with 4:34 left.

Kiski Area had held nine of its past 10 opponents to less than 50 points and had defeated Hempfield in four of the past five meetings.

"This means a lot," Pilato said. "We've worked really hard and it's paying off."

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