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Hempfield baseball rides deep rotation into the postseason

| Thursday, May 16, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Hempfield pitcher Zach Martinelli delivers to a Fox Chapel batter during their WPIAL Class AAAA opening-round playoff game May 13, 2013, at Gateway High School in Monroeville. Martinelli struck out 18 batters and gave up a bunt single and two walks as he led Hempfield past Fox Chapel, 2-0.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Hempfield base runner Luke Fox scores the eventual winning run past Fox Chapel catcher Zachary Burkhart during their WPIAL Class AAAA opening-round playoff game May 13, 2013, at Gateway High School in Monroeville. Hempfield defeated Fox Chapel, 2-0.
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Hempfield shortstop Nathan Mori tags out Fox Chapel base runner Robert Killian in a rundown between second and third base during the fifth inning of their WPIAL Class AAAA opening-round playoff game May 13, 2013, at Gateway High School in Monroeville. Hempfield defeated Fox Chapel, 2-0.

When the Hempfield baseball team had a minor slump at the plate mid-way through the season, it turned out to be not that big of a deal.

That's because the Spartans have perhaps one of the most talented and deepest pitching staffs in all the WPIAL.

Headlined by Greg Martin and Zach Martinelli, coach Tim Buzzard's hurlers — a staff that goes six-seven deep — have a combined 2.00 ERA this season. In seven outings, Hempfield held opponents to one run or less, including shutouts against section rivals Norwin, Kiski Area and Albert Gallatin.

“Our pitching has been great all year,” he said. “I've never been associated with a team ERA that low. We have a lot of strong pitchers who really throw strikes and are smart players. As a coach you won't have many years pitching-wise like we had this regular season.”

Martinelli opened the postseason by tossing a 2-0, one-hit shutout over Fox Chapel, striking out 18 in the process.

Hempfield (18-3), which won the Section 2-AAAA title after compiling a 10-2 mark, figures to be a tough out in the WPIAL playoffs due to their pitching and rejuvenated hitting.

Buzzard is confident his team will be ready for its upcoming big games. He points out the grueling schedule his team played to make it battle-tested.

Besides its section schedule, the Spartans posted nonsection wins against Pine-Richland, Central Catholic, Canon-McMillan and Belle Vernon. Hempfield dropped a tight, 3-0 contest at perennial power North Allegheny.

“We haven't put up (18) wins in one year in a long, long time,” Buzzard said. “Our section is always tough, but we really went after it in the nonconference games. We played some of the top teams out there and performed very well. That experience should bode well for us in the playoffs. These guys ran through a very hard schedule and really performed well.”

Along with rising junior Joey DeFloria, the Spartans have had numerous players step up in offensive roles.

Seniors Nathan Mori (.404 avg), Luke Fox (.404) and Martin (.390) continually have posed problems for opposing pitchers. The trio has consistently delivered game-changing hits for the Spartans.

“Teams obviously know Joey is a huge threat,” Buzzard said. “When you have a big bat like him in your lineup it just makes everybody else better. If teams pitch around Joey, he's very dangerous on the base paths because of his speed. But guys like Martin and several others have had really big seasons for us.”

Despite the regular season success, Buzzard said he's been stressing to his team not to lose focus. Unlike college and professional baseball, the WPIAL playoffs are a win-and-advance system, rather than a series.

“We're pretty confident in our ability,” Buzzard said. “We know we can do well, but I keep telling the players it's single elimination. You can't have a bad day or an off day in the playoffs because that will be it. We have to do what we do best and that's fundamentals. We can't look ahead. We just have to get through one game at a time.”

Hempfield was scheduled to play Canon-McMillan in the quarterfinals Wednesday, after deadline for this edition.

Brian Hunger is a freelance writer.

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