Experienced pitching staff to lead the way for Hempfield baseball
When most baseball teams in the WPIAL lose seven seniors to graduation, the expectations can be bleak the following year. It typically translates to a rebuilding year.
That's not the case at Hempfield, where the cupboard was left far from bare.
The Spartans, led by coach Tim Buzzard, return a wealth of talent from a team that went 16-6 a year ago and advanced to the quarterfinals of the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs.
How all the talent jells, however, is one of the biggest questions Buzzard has entering the season.
“We lost some great leaders who were also tough kids,” he said. “We also lost some big bats. But this is a new year and a new team. I like this group a lot, and they are working very hard. But you always have some uncertainty until you start to play the games. That's when you see what your team is made of, how it reacts and how it's going to come together.”
One area of little concern for Hempfield is its pitching staff. The Spartans return several game-tested pitchers, headlined by returning ace Zack Martinelli, who was 5-2 last season, including a no-hitter against Connellsville.
Martinelli, a Seton Hill recruit considered to be one of the top returning pitchers in Class AAAA, will be joined on the hill by senior lefty Greg Martin, junior Marc Demilio and senior Nathan Mori to give the Spartans a deep, experienced staff.
“There's no question our pitching is our strength,” Buzzard said. “These guys have all played in big games and have very valuable experience. I'm expecting them to have strong seasons and help us reach our goals.”
Hempfield will, however, have some new faces in the field.
Four starters return, including rising junior center fielder Joey Defloria.
Defloria had an amazing sophomore season, hitting .493 with five home runs and 27 RBI. He was named to the all-state large school second team.
“Joey is just an exceptional athlete,” Buzzard said. “He has tremendous plate discipline and works incredibly hard. He's still young and developing but has great power and runs very well. He's definitely going to start getting a lot of attention from (college) scouts.”
Despite some new starters and lineup tweaks, the Spartans figure to be right in the Section 2-AAAA race, but Buzzard isn't considering his team a frontrunner just yet. His new players will have to make up for a lot of hitting lost to graduation — the Spartans scored six runs or more in 14 games last season.
“This is a tough section with a lot of good teams,” he said. “Norwin has won several (section) titles in a row. So, until they get knocked off they are the team to beat. Our goal is to win as many games as possible and try to get to that level. It's going to be an exciting year, and we're going to run into a lot of strong teams. We have talent. We just have to apply it in the games.”
Hempfield opens its season Saturday at Mt. Lebanon.
Brian Hunger is a freelance writer.