Hempfield tries to shake off WPIAL semifinal loss
North Allegheny just seems to have Hempfield's number on the baseball diamond.
The Spartans lost for a second time to the Tigers this season — the most recent coming in a WPIAL Class AAAA semifinal last week. North Allegheny also knocked Hempfield out of the WPIAL playoffs a year ago.
The Spartans lost both of this season's meetings by 3-0 scores.
The loss ended Hempfield's hopes of a WPIAL title, but it didn't end its season quite yet.
The Spartans were scheduled to play Pine-Richland in the third-place consolation game earlier this week, but results were unavailable prior to this edition's deadline. A win would qualify Hempfield for an invite to the PIAA playoffs for the first time.
Hempfield (19-4) edged the Rams (17-5), 4-3, during the regular season.
“It's a do or die game,” Hempfield coach Tim Buzzard said earlier this week. “We know they're a very good team and have a lot of great players. They've beat some good teams this year and are always strong.”
In the loss to North Allegheny, Hempfield was able to get players on base, but it continually did so with two outs. The Spartans were unable to get any clutch hits after getting a man on base. In all, the Spartans got on base eight times — seven of which came with two outs. Hempfield left two runners on twice.
“They were able to get guys on base early in innings,” Buzzard said. “We had some chances but didn't get it done. I think we tried to force some things and definitely had some missed opportunities. It's hard to always try and rally with two outs.”
North Allegheny put its leadoff man on base four times and each time a sacrifice bunt followed. Two eventually scored as a result of the small-ball strategy.
Pitcher Zack Martinelli, a Seton Hill recruit, had another strong outing while holding the Tigers' explosive offense to just five hits — all singles. In a first-round win against Fox Chapel, he recorded 18 strikeouts.
“Zach's just been awesome,” Buzzard said. “He threw a really good game against North Allegheny. He was cruising and didn't give up much. They found a few holes and were able to get some runs across, but to shut down a team like that is pretty impressive. He's continuing to get strong and is just really putting together a nice season.”
It was Hempfield's first loss in almost a month and ended a nine-game winning streak. Buzzard said he was impressed with his team's character and how quickly it shook off the defeat. The Spartans haven't been on the opposite end too often this season en route to one of the best seasons in school history.
“The morale is great,” he said. “It was a tough loss and the kids knew it, but they recovered quickly. We looked at some things we could have done differently and hopefully we'll be able to apply those things in the future. We practiced hard all week and will be ready to play.”
Brian Hunger is a freelance writer.