Hempfield vs. Spring-Ford - PIAA class 6A boys basketball second round game

Hempfield’s Nick Deeg (13) dives for a loose ball in front of Spring-Ford’s Caleb Little (12) during first half action of a PIAA class 6A boys basketball second round game at the Geigle Complex in Reading Wednesday March 15, 2023.

READING - Hempfield got the sort of grinding, rock-fight of a game it probably needed to beat powerful Spring-Ford here Wednesday.

The Black Knights simply couldn’t score enough to pull it off.

Spring-Ford, the 27-3 District One runner-up, held off Hempfield 43-39 in a second-round game of the state Class 6A playoffs at the Geigle Complex.

The Black Knights bow out with a Lancaster-Lebanon League championship, at 25-4.

“I think it was one of Hempfield’s best teams, if not the best,’’ said Hempfield point guard Miguel Pena, whose superb prep career ended on a night when he fought through foul trouble and scored 10 points.

“When we lost in districts, Coach (Danny) Walck let us know how good (an opportunity) we have, going into states. States was a big goal of mine, and obviously the team.’’

He shrugged.

“Now, my career is over.’’

The Rams advance to the state quarterfinals and a meeting with State College, the Mid-Penn Conference champ, which beat Pittsburgh Central Catholic 57-47 in their second-round game Wednesday.

The Knights will rue the chances they missed on the offensive end on a night when, otherwise, they walked the tightrope deftly.

Senior swingman Michael Hester, with a lot of help from his friends, held Jacob Nguyen, Spring-Ford’s highly-regarded 6-4 sophomore shooter, to 11 points.

“You try to force him to drive a little, but he’s well-rounded,’’ Hester said. “It’s usually my task to try to take away one of their better players, but you need help from your team. I thought we were all able to do a role in containing him.’’

The Knights also speeded the Rams up a little, forcing nine second-half turnovers, winning the rebound battle, getting their share of the scrappy, 50/50 loose balls, etc. etc.

“We just couldn’t get it to fall a few times,’’ said Walck.

It was a 16-14 tug-of-war at halftime. Pena hit a three early in the second half to tie it at 19. Just before that, he had picked up his third foul. Just after it, he picked up his fourth, a marginal call on a loose-ball scrap.

The Knights thus had to play without their show-runner - three-year show-runner - for about eight minutes.

Spring-Ford got a couple of ball-reversal threes from E.J. Campbell (15 points) and pushed the lead to 31-23, the biggest it got for either team, all night.

The Knights made a stand there, though, and when Kamryn Lawrence got a stick-back of a missed free throw at the third-quarter buzzer, it was 31-29.

Pena returned, the storm weathered, with 6:10 left.

Then came a killer sequence. With the game tied, Hempfield missed a one-and-one front end at the foul line, get the rebound, got fouled again and missed two.

Spring-Ford rushed the ball to the other end and got a ball-reversal three from Campbell. That started a 9-2 Spring-Ford run, after which it was 40-33 with just 96 seconds left.

“I expected a fight,’’ Walck said. “It was two pretty evenly-matched teams.

We missed some chances, but we fought. It’s been characteristic of this team. They believe in themselves and they believe in each other.’’

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