Hempfield couldn’t miss. A young McCaskey team starting just two seniors struggled to get shots to fall. And the visiting Black Knights eventually opened up a double-digit lead by the third quarter and held on for a 47-36 season-opening Lancaster-Lebanon League Section One victory on Friday night.
“It’s great to get to this point,” Hempfield senior guard Ryan Hilton said. “It’s been a tough year. It’s good to get back.”
Friday’s opener followed a Monday practice that was the first in three weeks for winter sports teams following Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s statewide shutdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The Knights didn’t appear to have much rust to knock off, shooting a solid 52% from the floor (19 of 36) and a hot 55% from 3-point range (five for nine). Hilton and sophomore teammate Miguel Pena paced the Knights with 11 points apiece.
“When we were off, we were still doing conditioning on Zoom and stuff,” Hilton said. “You see could see that tonight.”
Hempfield (1-0 league, 1-0 overall) led 14-8 at the end of the first quarter and 25-17 at intermission before using a 10-2 run to open up a 35-21 lead midway through the quarter.
Meanwhile, McCaskey (0-1, 0-1) shot an icy 32% from the floor (14 for 43) and 25% from beyond the arc (three for 12). Though, it’s worth pointing out McCaskey basketball players were limited in putting up shots over the three-week shutdown since rims have been removed from outdoor courts across the city since the spring, a result of a move by city and school district officials to curb the potential spread of COVID-19.
“That is a factor,” McCaskey third-year coach Freddy Ramos said. “I had to have shooting as a good part of my practice plan this week because we haven’t had anywhere to play.”
McCaskey sophomore point guard Jonathan Byrd (eight points) is the lone returning starter for a Red Tornado team aiming to improve upon last year’s 16-win season that ended in the District 3-6A quarterfinals in a loss to eventual district champ Wilson. There were some good parts to pull out of Friday’s loss for McCaskey. The teams were about even in rebounds. The Red Tornado stayed patient offensively as its transition game is still a work progress since as players are improving their conditioning, and its defensive press seemed effective in the moments it was deployed. Junior guard Hasan Williams led McCaskey with 10 points.
“I’m glad we got this under our belt,” Ramos said. “We talked about it in the locker room, are we happy with everything we did? No. Did we do some things we liked? Yeah.”
Hilton is Hempfield’s leading returning scorer for a Black Knights team that has a handful of key pieces returning from last year’s six-win team.
“It’s our first game,” Hilton said. “We’re just getting used to each other. The more we play, the more we’ll gel.”