The previous time the Hampton boys basketball team won a section championship, its senior class was in first grade.
Friday, the Talbots took a giant step toward winning another while continuing their quest to be the class of Class 4A.
Standout junior guard Peter Kramer (14 points) led a group of four Hampton players scoring in double figures and the Talbots used a massive run to begin the third quarter to defeat visiting Highlands, 51-46, in a showdown of streaking Section 1 teams.
With the win, Hampton (15-2, 6-0) took a two-game lead on Highlands (14-3, 4-2) in the section while ending the Golden Rams’ seven-game win streak. Meanwhile, Hampton extended its win streak to nine by improving to 2-0 against Highlands this season. The Talbots won at Highlands, 73-58, on Jan. 3. The Talbots, who two seasons ago went just 4-16, are aiming to win their first title since 2012, when twins Ryan and Collin Luther were doing their thing.
“It’s huge,” Hampton senior Eric Weeks said of the win. “We’ve been here. Me, Brennan (Murray), Jaden (McMeekin). We started off as sophomores and won like four games. We built on it last year, and this year we’re really coming alive. It just feels great.”
Weeks and his buddies came alive in the second half Friday after a first half which saw Highlands run to a 23-17 lead. It was a listless start for a Hampton team that had put up 84 and 83 points in its past two games. But the Talbots woke up emphatically, using a 17-0 run to start the third quarter that gave them a 34-23 lead with 2:52 left in the third. Weeks sparked the run with two 3-pointers and Murray added another. Highlands didn’t score its first points of the third until Bradyn Foster’s basket with 1:36 left.
“At halftime, we had only 17 points. Coach got into us and we really needed it,” Kramer said. “He set the fire under us and we just came out hot in the second half. The crowd got into it and the rest is history.”
Hampton’s lead grew to as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter. Highlands pulled within 44-39 after Jimmy Kunst’s basket with 2:14 left, but the Golden Rams could never draw closer than that.
Weeks finished with 12 points for Hampton. He made three 3-pointers. Robert Coll added 12 points and Murray chipped in with 10.
Kunst led Highlands with 18 points and Foster, a 6-foot-8 center, had 14. Cam Reigard, an excellent 3-point shooter who made seven 3s and scored 30 points Tuesday against Bishop Canevin, was held to 3 points. The Golden Rams entered the game averaging 77.1 points a contest, which ranked third in the WPIAL. The 46 points Friday were their second-fewest of the season.
Hampton used primarily man-to-man defense against Highlands in the first meeting, but on Friday, the Talbots mixed in a 2-3 zone, as well. It turned out to be the perfect recipe.
“I thought the zone was effective. But you have to rebound out of a zone, and we were able to rebound,” Hampton coach Joe Lafko said. “We were also able to score in transition out of the zone. And those were big factors for us in the second half.”
Added Weeks, “It’s not just slowing them down. It’s just playing really hard, physical defense. Just like we’ve been, boxing out. And I think we’ve played good defense all year. First time we played them we kept them in the 50s. This time it was in the 40s. Two great wins.”
The latest one was likely Hampton’s biggest of the season, and followed up non-section wins earlier in the week against strong teams from larger classes — Class 5A Bethel Park and Class 6A Butler.
“We’re just taking it one game at a time,” Kramer said. “You never want to look ahead too much, but we definitely know we’re in a good spot right now.