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PIAA 6A: Spring-Ford's trust helps Rams past Hempfield into state quarters

03/16/2023, 1:00am EDT
By Corky Blake

Corky Blake (@corkyblake)

E.J. Campbell and Jacob Nguyen conducted separate post-game interviews after they and their Spring-Ford High School teammates earned a gritty 43-39 victory over Hempfield in the PIAA Class 6A second round Wednesday night at Reading’s Geigle Complex.

Not surprisingly, Campbell and Nguyen emphasized the same word in describing why the Rams survived and advanced to play in the Elite Eight on Saturday against State College at a time and site to be determined.

“Trust … big time,” said Campbell, a smooth junior guard who led Spring-Ford with 15 points. “Whenever we need it, we have each other’s backs.”

Spring-Ford junior E.J. Campbell scored 15 points Wednesday against Hempfield. (Photo: CoBL File)

For Campbell, that trust from his teammates played a huge role in him hitting nothing but net with a 3-pointer from the right wing to put the District 1 runner-up ahead for good, 34-31, with 4:34 remaining in the game.

“I was like 0-for-4 (from 3-point range) before that, but they kept feeding me the ball,” Campbell said. “Caleb (Little) kicked it out to me, and I made the shot.”

After a Hempfield turnover on the ensuing possession, Spring-Ford coach Joe Dempsey called a timeout to set up a play that could boost the lead to two possessions.

The Rams spread the floor and eventually Nguyen was isolated on the left side with just one defender.

That was a mismatch in Spring-Ford’s favor.

Nguyen, a 6-3 sophomore and two-year starter who leads the team in scoring (16.6 ppg), took his man to the hole and soared for a layup and a 36-31 advantage. 

“Coach trusted me I could take it and do my thing,” Nguyen said, “and it worked out.”

That was the Rams’ final field goal as they closed the show from the foul line. Nguyen was 4-for-5, Campbell was 2-for-2 and reserve forward Zach Zollers 1-for-2.

“I was surprised I missed the one,” Nguyen said of a 1-and-1 opportunity.

The first half was an absolute slog. The Rams led 10-7 after the first half and then were ahead 16-14 at the half. No, that’s not a misprint.

“They’re a well-coached, disciplined team that’s real physical, and their physicality bothered us,” Dempsey said. “It took us a while to get adjusted to it.”

“They were a tough team,” agreed Nguyen. “We got out-toughed in the first half, and we had to play tougher.”

The halftime score was nowhere Dempsey wanted his Pioneer Athletic Conference Liberty champions to be.

“That was in their favor,” said Dempsey, who’s in his second year as Spring-Ford’s coach after leading La Salle High from 2004-18. “I did not want a game in the high 30s or low 40s. We watched a lot of video on them, and they played a lot of low-scoring games.”

The teams turned their offenses into overdrive in the third quarter as they each scored 15 points.

Tyree Banks sank a pair of 3s and added a field goal to help the Rams build a 31-23 lead, which evaporated into the 31-all tie rather quickly despite Hempfield’s leading scorer Miguel Pena on the bench with four fouls.

The Black Knights left the door open by missing the front end of consecutive 1-and-1s. Campbell answered with his 3, Nguyen scored and Spring-Ford lived to play another day. 

Their opponent in the quarterfinals, State College, topped Pittsburgh Central Catholic 57-47 as Braeden Shrewsberry, the son of Penn State coach Micah Shrewsberry, scored 15 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter.

“I’m so proud of these kids,” Dempsey said. “They’ve made so many sacrifices. They’re in the gym all the time and done everything we’ve asked them to do. They respect us and let us coach them.”

In other words, they “trust” their coaches.

By Quarter
Spring-Ford:  10  |   6   |  15  |  12  ||  43
Hempfield:      7   |   7   |  15  |  10  ||  39

Spring-Ford: E.J. Campbell 15, Jacob Nguyen 11, Caleb Little 2, Tommy Kelly 2, Tyree Banks 8, Zach Zollers 5.

Hempfield: Miguel Pena 10, Michael Hester 7, Chase Calabretta 2, Ben Troyer 3, Kamryn Lawrence 11, Michael Rieker 2, Nick Deeg 4.

Spring-Ford: 15-37 FG (3-8 3PT), 10-14 FT
Hempfield: 13-30 FG (4-8 3PT), 9-5 FT


Wed., March 15
Boys 6A
(11-1) Parkland vs. (1-7) Garnet Valley (6 PM)
(1-2) Spring-Ford 43, (3-3) Hempfield 39
(12-1) Roman Catholic 60, (1-3) Lower Merion 56 (OT)
(7-2) New Castle 65, (1-4) Downingtown West 56
(3-1) Reading 86, (1-6) Upper Darby 58
(1-9) Coatesville 61, (1-8) North Penn 55
(12-3) Archbishop Wood 72, (3-6) Chambersburg 45

Girls 5A
(1-1) West Chester Rustin 49, (2-2) Abington Heights 46
(12-1) Archbishop Wood 42, (1-2) Villa Maria 29
(1-3) Bishop Shanahan 43, (2-1) Pittston Area 35.
(11-1) Bethlehem Catholic 34, (1-4) Gwynedd Mercy 24

Boys 4A
(1-1) Bishop Shanahan 69, (2-1) Scranton Prep 57

Girls 4A
(12-1) Lansdale Catholic 79, (4-2) Jersey Shore 42
(3-5) Trinity 67, (12-2) Audenried 50
(2-1) Scranton Prep 51, (1-1) Nazareth Acad.47 (OT)
(3-1) Wyomissing 40, (12-3) Neumann-Goretti 33

Boys 3A
(12-3) Devon Prep 82, (2-2) Mid Valley 52
(12-1) West Catholic 56, (2-1) Holy Redeemer 47
(3-1) Trinity 91, Math, Civics & Sciences 84 Girls 3A
(2-1) Dunmore 52, (12-1) Imhotep Charter 34

Boys 2A
(11-1) Mahanoy Area 58, (12-1) Constitution 40
(1-1) Dock Mennonite 60, (12-2) Sankofa Freedom 44

Girls 1A
(4-2) St. John Neumann 40, (1-1) The Christian Acad. 37

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