State playoff newcomer Hempfield gets 3rd shot at nemesis North Allegheny
It has been a memorable ride in 2013 for the Hempfield baseball team, which is preparing for its first-ever PIAA playoff game.
Never mind that in consecutive trips to the WPIAL playoffs, the Spartans haven't been able to beat their Class AAAA first-round opponent, North Allegheny — the most recent outcome a 3-0 loss in the semifinals May 21.
Or that a regular-season encounter this year between the two schools produced a similar result.
The slate is clean for both programs now as the state playoffs begin Monday. Hempfield, which beat Pine-Richland, 9-2, on Tuesday in the WPIAL consolation game, is glad to finally be a part of them.
“Getting to the state tournament means a lot,” said Hempfield senior Nathan Mori, a .400 hitter with two pitching victories. “We've been working hard from the offseason on, lifting and conditioning. This is what we've been trying to do all season. Hopefully, it's a long ride for us.”
Hempfield and North Allegheny, the WPIAL champion following a 4-2 victory over Seneca Valley on Thursday, have 20-4 records heading into the 4 p.m. opener at Shaler.
A total of six area baseball and softball teams have extended their seasons into June with a trip to the PIAA tournament.
Joining Hempfield in the baseball brackets are California, the WPIAL Class A consolation qualifier, and District 6-AA champion Blairsville.
In the softball brackets, Hempfield, Greensburg Salem and Ligonier Valley are the qualifiers — the Spartans winning the WPIAL Class AAAA consolation game, the Class AAA Golden Lions claiming their first WPIAL championship and the Rams finishing as the District 6-AA runner-up.
Hempfield baseball coach Tim Buzzard hopes to see his players embrace their rare opportunity.
“The kids are very excited to see how we measure up in the state playoffs,” he said.
“They're also eager to go up against North Allegheny again. The atmosphere at practice has been fantastic.”
The Spartans also dropped a 3-0 decision at North Allegheny on April 20.
“It was 1-0 in the sixth in both of those games, so we were pretty evenly matched teams,” Buzzard said.
“We don't want to settle with just making the state playoffs. Our next goal is to win the first game and go from there.”
Other first-round baseball games Monday match California (18-5) against District 9 champion Elk County Catholic (19-3) at Brookville and Blairsville (17-1) against WPIAL third-place finisher Shady Side Academy (15-8) in Homer City.
The Greensburg Salem softball team has advanced to the state playoffs for the second consecutive season — and second time overall — after winning its first WPIAL title with an 8-0 victory over Ambridge on Thursday.
The Golden Lions (21-1) face District 9 champion St. Mary's (13-6) on Monday at Hampton.
“We'll be ready to go,” Greensburg Salem coach Jody Morgan said.
“We wanted to win the WPIAL title. There is no pressure now, so let's go to the states and do what we can do.”
In other softball games, Hempfield (18-6) meets two-time WPIAL AAAA champion Canon-McMillan (21-1) at North Allegheny High School -— the Spartans lost to the Big Macs, 5-0, in the WPIAL semifinals after handing them their only loss, 17-6, during the regular season — and Ligonier Valley (16-4), the District 6-AA runner-up, faces five-time defending District 5-AA champion Chestnut Ridge (21-2) at Bedford High School.
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.