North Xtra: Hampton takes another step in right direction
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For the second season in a row, the Hampton boys basketball team won more than 20 games and played for a WPIAL championship.
What's even more impressive is that this group of Hampton players might still be a year away from hitting their peak.
Loaded with underclassmen, Hampton was one of the best teams in the WPIAL again this season, one that came to an end with a PIAA Class AAAA second-round loss to Erie Cathedral Prep last week.
The Talbots' main playing rotation included only one senior -- there were three seniors on the team in total -- but for a core of players who had advanced to the WPIAL final and PIAA semifinals a season earlier, experience -- not a lack of it -- was one of their biggest strengths.
"We have a team of competitive basketball players," Hampton coach Joe Lafko said. "They've played in  WPIAL and PIAA playoff games [the past two seasons]. They know what it's about. This is a team that's very proud of our ability to be successful.
"We set our goals to win WPIAL and PIAA championships. Even though we fell short of our goals, we were still able to compete and play at a high level."
After going 25-5 in Class AAA last season, Hampton moved up to Class AAAA this season. While a similar leap would probably lead to a significant decrease in wins for many teams, Hampton continued to play at a high level and produce excellent results. The Talbots finished 22-6 and placed third in what was widely regarded as the most talented section in the WPIAL, Section 3.
"I'm very proud of the team's success," Lafko said.
Ryan Luther, a 6-foot-7 junior guard/forward, further cemented himself as one of the WPIAL's elite players with his best season yet. Luther finished the regular season averaging 21.3 points per game. Luther has Division I offers from Duquesne and Dayton, and several others are showing heavy interest.
"Ryan has been our most improved player. He has emerged as what I think is one of the top WPIAL players in any classification," said Lafko.
Hampton was much more than Ryan Luther, though. The other Luther twin, Collin, successfully bounced back from a concussion suffered during football season that forced him to miss the early part of the season. Sophomore guard David Huber was a consistent double-digit scorer in his second year as a starter.
Junior guard Jon Floss and sophomore guard Joey Lafko, the coach's son, rounded out the starting five. Lafko played the final few games with a broken finger injured in the WPIAL semifinals.
Two of the top reserves were junior guard Jack Obringer and junior guard/forward Trace McConnell.
The senior class consisted of guards Tom Radziminski and Jake Adams, and forward Richard Ford.
Hampton finished behind New Castle and North Allegheny in the section standings. The Talbots defeated Mt. Lebanon, McKeesport and North Allegheny in the WPIAL playoffs, before falling to New Castle for the third time, 68-53, in the championship game.
In the PIAA playoffs, Hampton beat City League representative Perry, but was eliminated by District 10 champion Erie Cathedral Prep, 58-50.
With so much returning talent next season, it surely won't be a surprise if Hampton plays deep into the postseason yet again.
"Our expectations and our goals never change," Joe Lafko said. "We strive to compete with the best in the state at our level."
Vincentian knocked off
Vincentian kept running and running, scoring and scoring this season. It resulted in the Royals running through the regular season and playoffs on their way to winning a WPIAL championship.
It's that WPIAL championship that this Vincentian team will be remembered for. The team's 86-74 win against Clairton earned the Royals their second WPIAL crown in three seasons.
The Royals went 26-2, with the losses both coming to District 6 runner-up Bishop Carroll. The second defeat --92-85 last week -- ended Vincentian's season.
Vincentian had the most potent offense in the WPIAL, averaging 83.7 points per game. The Section 2 champion Royals scored 106 points in a WPIAL first-round playoff win against Western Beaver, the highest point total by any WPIAL team this season.
The Royals had won 15 in a row prior to their season-ending loss. All five of their postseason wins came by at least 12 points.
Veteran coach George Yokitis will lose second-leading scorer Tony DiNardo and a handful of other seniors, but the Royals should continue to be strong next season with the return of leading-scorer Ryan Wolf and a supporting cast that includes Jim Kenna, Kevin Fischer and Jay Cortese.
First Published March 21, 2013 12:00 am