Hempfield’s boys basketball team entered the season with high expectations, and for good reason. It had just come off a 17-6 season in which it advanced to the WPIAL playoffs and returned several key contributors.
So far, that promise appears to be paying off.
Following a two-point loss to Greensburg Central Catholic Dec. 7, the Spartans have won their past six games to improve to 7-1. Their two most recent victories have been their most impressive, as they defeated Seneca Valley and Franklin Regional in the Montour Showcase. Both of those teams are 6-3, and the 18-point win against Seneca Valley was the Raiders’ most lopsided loss of the season.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the team’s recent run has been its defense, as it has held opponents to an average of 42.8 points per game and has given up more than 50 points only once in that span.
Of course, Hempfield’s offense has also been a noteworthy aspect of its early success. After leading the team in scoring last season as a sophomore, guard Kason Harrell has continued to improve going into his junior season. He led the team in scoring in each of its first seven games, averaging 23 points per game in that period and never once scoring fewer than 18 points.
Burrell still going strong
Burrell’s girls basketball team continued its impressive start to the season with close victories against State College and North Schuylkill in the State College tournament Dec. 27 and 28. Coach Meghan Ziemianski and the Buccaneers, who have climbed to No. 2 in the Post-Gazette’s Class AA rankings, have won their first eight games. The 8-0 start is their second in the past three seasons.
Wins elusive for some teams
Nearly a month into the 2013-14 season, there are still seven WPIAL boys basketball teams that have yet to record a win. Nearly half of those schools — Woodland Hills, East Allegheny and Imani Christian — are in the East Xtra coverage area.
After finishing 4-17 in the 2012-13 season, the Wolverines have lost their first nine games, partially because of a defense that has allowed an average of 71.4 points per game, the second-highest mark of any WPIAL team. The Wildcats, who made the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs last season, have also struggled on the defensive end, giving up 70 points per game. In their first full season as a WPIAL member, the Saints have understandably struggled in their first five games, three of which were losses that came by at least 20 points.
Mustangs catching fire
What was expected to be a good season for the Plum girls basketball team looked, for a brief moment, to be off to an uninspired start.
The Mustangs lost their first two games of the season in the Penn-Trafford tournament, the first of which was a 37-point loss to the host Warriors.
Since that time, however, the team has responded in a big way. Plum has won seven consecutive games, a run that ended with wins in both games at the Westland (Ohio) tournament just after Christmas. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the streak hasn’t been the wins themselves, but the dominant manner in which they’ve come. The Mustangs’ past seven wins have come by an average of 27.3 points per game, with four of those seven games decided by 20 points or more.
Here are a couple of boys games to keep an eye on this week:
Central Catholic (6-4) at Plum (8-1), tonight, 7:30 p.m. — The Vikings snapped a three-game losing skid with a narrow 51-49 victory Dec. 28 against Woodbridge (Va.). The Mustangs have won eight of their first nine games, partially due to a stingy defense that is allowing just 40 points per game, the second-best mark of any team in the WPIAL.
Gateway (7-3) at Fox Chapel (8-1), Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. — After winning five of their first six games, the Gators have lost two of their past four. The Foxes, coming off a strong showing at the KSA Holiday tournament in Orlando, Fla., won eight of their first nine. The teams split the season series in 2013, the most recent of which was a 51-37 Fox Chapel victory. The girls game that takes place before it, also pitting the Gators against the Foxes, figures to be a good matchup, too, as the teams enter the game with a combined 10-5 record.
Craig Meyer: email@example.com and Twitter @CraigMeyerPG.