East Xtra: Hempfield, Penn-Trafford meet in 1-AAAA showdown
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Aaron Epps might be new to Hempfield Area this season but he is not new to Section 1-AAAA. As coach at Kiski Area, Epps has coached against and scouted both Penn-Trafford and Hempfield.
He knows the similar styles both teams utilize.
Now Epps will be a part of the rivalry first hand Friday when his Spartans (7-1, 3-0) play host to the Warriors (7-0, 3-0) in a critical section showdown.
John Giannikas has coached Penn-Trafford for the past six seasons. He knows all about the closely contested matchups between the two programs in recent history.
During the 2008-09 season Hempfield handled Penn-Trafford by an average of 22 points. Things have been far more competitive and balanced since then.
Three years ago the home teams held court with Hempfield winning, 52-47, and Penn-Trafford winning, 47-42.
Two years ago Penn-Trafford swept the regular-season series but only by a combined three points, winning, 56-55 and 44-42.
Last year the home teams held court again with Hempfield winning, 69-56, and Penn-Trafford winning, 47-40.
"The teams mirror each other," Epps said. "We don't look ahead at all, we try to take it one game at a time but also I am not going to be naïve and try to play the game down. The girls know it is a big game. We are going to embrace the fact that it is a big game. Everyone knows it is a big game, obviously we want to win but it is one game and no matter what, we would still have all our goals in place after the game."
This matchup has had major section implications the past two seasons. Penn-Trafford has won the past two section titles, winning 23 of its past 24 section contests with the lone exception being the loss to Hempfield last year. Hempfield has finished in the top three in the section the past four seasons.
"We know each other so well," Giannikas said. "They got kids who can shoot, they play hard, you earn everything you get against them, there is nothing easy. You really have to go out and earn everything, it has always been like that with them. Both teams play hard. If you are going to win, you are going to have to earn it."
Just as it has for the better part of the past decade, defense figures to be at front and center of Friday night's showdown.
Hempfield allowed 38.3 points per game last season, second fewest in Class AAAA. Through seven games Penn-Trafford is allowing 34.1 points per game this season, fewest in Class AAAA. Hempfield is not far behind, allowing 39.4 points per game.
Penn-Trafford has posted impressive non-section wins against Shaler, Gateway and North Catholic already this season. In section play it made easy work of Laurel Highlands, Connellsville and Kiski, winning by an average of 48 points per game.
Hempfield has non-section wins against Steel Valley, Moon, Penn Hills and Greensburg Salem. In the section it owns wins against Connellsville, Norwin and Laurel Highlands by an average of 30 points per game.
The Warriors return three starters this season, senior guards Taylor Cortazzo and Nicole Hyland and senior forward Cassie Patterson. Sophomore guard Casey Aunkst, senior guard/forward Madison Mossellem and sophomore guard/forward Maria Palarino also rotate in as starters.
The Spartans return two starters this season, senior point guard Mary Burns and her sister, junior shooting guard Monica Burns. Senior forwards Casey Hamilton and Lea Scozio also start along with sophomore forward Leah Knizner. Monica Burns is leading Class AAAA, averaging 22 points per game this season.
"For a big game like this a lot of coaches will say it comes down to who plays harder," Epps said. "I disagree with that, with two teams like this, both will play hard. It will come down to who executes in the fourth quarter."
First Published January 3, 2013 12:00 am