Hampton's Ryan Luther goes after a loose ball sandwiched by New Castle's Jake McPhatter and Drew Allen during the PIAA boys quarterfinal at Bethel Park High School Saturday.
By Ryan Riordan / Tri-State Sports & News Service
Most teams in the WPIAL would love to have the run the Hampton boys basketball team has enjoyed over the past three years.
The Talbots are 71-16 over that span, and have advanced to the WPIAL championship game and at least the second round of the PIAA tournament each of those seasons.
But the Talbots' inability to beat New Castle has left a bitter taste in the their mouths.
Hampton is 0-9 against New Castle in the past three seasons, losing the WPIAL title game to the Hurricanes each year. The latest loss to New Castle, a 57-55 defeat Saturday in the PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinals at Bethel Park, ended Hampton's season. The Talbots finished the season at 24-5.
"It's bittersweet," Hampton coach Joe Lafko said. "You look at what we accomplished this year -- 24 wins, a WPIAL final -- and it was successful. But our goals are to win a WPIAL championship and play in and win a state championship, and we fell short. So it's bittersweet.
"But it's an amazing accomplishment what this group accomplished the past three years. ... Making the WPIAL playoffs are a major task, and making the state playoffs are a monumental task. The players should be very proud."
The latest loss to New Castle may have been the most difficult to swallow, as Hampton led, 34-27, at halftime. But the Red Hurricanes battled back in the second half, holding Hampton star Ryan Luther scoreless during the final 16 minutes to earn the close victory and remain unbeaten on the season.
It was the final game in a Hampton uniform for Luther and his twin brother, Collin, who had 26 points in Saturday's loss. Both players surpassed the 1,000-point mark in their careers and Ryan, who will play at Pitt next season, is the school's all-time leading scorer.
"Ryan Luther is the best basketball player I've ever coached," said Lafko, who has coached at Hampton for 18 seasons and also coached at Warren for six years. "He has so much talent and so much skill. I wish him the absolute best in his future endeavors with Pitt and coach [Jamie] Dixon.
"Collin maybe didn't have the stats Ryan did, but he was very important for us and just an extreme competitor.
"They are both players who left a legacy of success at Hampton."
But even with the graduations of the Luthers, as well as starter Jack Obringer, the cupboard won't be bare next season for the Talbots, who will move back down to Class AAA after two seasons in Class AAAA.
David Huber, a three-year starter who has averaged double figures in scoring each of the past two seasons, and Joey Lafko, a two-year starter and the coach's son, will return for their senior seasons. Jack Morrison, who saw time off the bench this season, will give the team another experienced guard.
"We may not be as big, and we may be more guard-oriented, but I'm looking for us to still fare well at the varsity level," Joe Lafko said.
But the Talbot coach admits it will be weird not to see the Luthers at practice anymore.
"It will be very strange when we have our first open gym for the 2014-15 season," Lafko said. "I've coached them for four straight years and it will be a very different feeling not to see them there."
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