Hampton boys hold off Gateway rally with last-second stand
With 1.8 seconds left in a two-point game, the in-bounds pass was destined for Gateway’s JP Kromka.
Gateway knew it.
Hampton knew it.
Even so, the lob pass from under the hoop found Gateway’s 6-foot-6 star senior in the paint.
Kromka already had 22 points.
But at the last second, Hampton’s defense surrounded Kromka, forced him into a difficult shot that missed and the Talbots escaped with a 52-50 first-round victory Tuesday in the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs at Fox Chapel.
Two free throws by Isaac DeGregorio with 9.5 seconds left were also key, but that last-second defensive stand ended a stressful five minutes for No. 8 seed Hampton, which saw No. 9 Gateway almost erase what had been a nine-point, fourth-quarter lead.
Gateway forced two turnovers in the final 30 seconds, but neither led to points.
“We were able to just hang in there,” Hampton coach Joe Lafko said. “Isaac hit two big free throws down the stretch when we needed those, and we made enough plays to win.”
Hampton senior Adam Bittner led with 20 points, his last on an aggressive driving layup with 68 seconds left to lead 50-46.
“All the guys that are on the court at that time, we’ve been through it throughout the season,” said Bittner of his team’s ability to stay calm under pressure.
No. 8 seed Hampton advances to face No. 1 Mars in the quarterfinals. The section rivals will meet for the third time. Mars won both regular-season matchups.
“We’ve played Mars so many times,” Lafko said. “I think it’s going to be 10 or 11 times in the matter of three seasons.”
Hampton strategy Tuesday was to do the best it could against Kromka but silence Gateway’s perimeter shooters. That plan worked well, and Gateway went without a 3-pointer for three quarters.
Eventually, that let Hampton’s defense focus more attention on Kromka.
“Our wings usually make a few shots,” Gateway coach Daryn Freedman said. “They just weren’t falling for them, so they were jamming JP inside. We just needed someone to make an outside shot because JP was trying to go one-on-four.”
Hampton had led 43-34 after three quarters.
But a put-back by Kromka with 55 seconds left in the fourth cut Hampton’s lead to two. After DeGregorio made two free throws to lead 52-48, Gateway’s Courtney Jackson answered with a driving layup to again cut the gap in half.
Jackson finished with 15 points.
With 1.8 seconds left and Hampton ahead by two, Gateway’s RJ Stevenson stole the inbounds and the Gators called timeout to set up the lob to Kromka.
“He got a good shot, it just didn’t fall,” Freedman said. “We got a shot at it. I was happy with our comeback. We finally made a couple shots.”
Gateway’s rally gained traction when Trevel Scott made consecutive 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, the second with 3:05 left to pull within 48-44 of Hampton. The Gators finished 2 of 12 from the arc.
“Teams will initially not double JP,” Freedman said. “When he starts scoring, they start putting two and three and four guys on him. But then we’ve got to make open shots.”
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.