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Hempfield baseball season one for program to build on

| Thursday, June 13, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Alex Haines works out with Nicole Malara, of Mt. Pleasant, at Seton Hill University in Greensburg on May 31, 2013
Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review
Hempfield relief pitcher Tyler Tubbs (17) is congratulated by Mark Demilio (15) after he retired the final Canon-McMillan batter with a strikeout during their WPIAL Class AAAA quarterfinal playoff game at North Allegheny on Wednesday, May 15, 2013, in Wexford. Hempfield defeated Canon-McMillan, 7-3, to advance to the semifinals.

It wasn't quite the ending the Hempfield baseball team was looking for, but when it was all over, the 2013 season was one of the best in school history.

The Spartans reeled off a 20-5 overall record, including a Section 2-AAAA title, three postseason victories and the program's first trip to the PIAA playoffs.

Ultimately, the Spartans weren't able to get past nemesis North Allegheny, losing to the Tigers in the WPIAL semifinals, 3-0, and again in the first round of the PIAA playoffs, 3-1. The Tigers also recorded a 3-0 regular-season victory.

“Overall, it was just a great year for the Hempfield program,” sixth-year coach Tim Buzzard said. “We were very fortunate to have a senior group who really set the bar for success. They worked so hard, and I'm so happy for them to go out on such a high note.”

The season's closing marked the end of many of the Spartans' high school careers. Buzzard lost eight seniors to graduation, including team leaders Greg Martin and Zach Martinelli.

“This is a group who won 20 games,” Buzzard said. “I couldn't be prouder of the year they put together. We are definitely going to miss them, but their legacy will be setting the benchmark for success and taking the program to levels it hasn't been before. They had outstanding careers here.”

Buzzard points to many defining moments throughout the season that catapulted his team.

One came in early April against Penn-Trafford when senior Corey Kennan delivered two clutch, late-inning two-run hits to rally the Spartans to a huge section win. It was a game Buzzard said his team didn't play well but found a way to win.

Another was a day after a late-April loss to Penn-Trafford when Hempfield responded with a 6-0 shutout of Central Catholic, which saw Martinelli and Martin combine to blank one of the WPIAL's top teams. It was a game Buzzard felt would define the remainder of the season.

But the one he felt was most important wasn't actually a win. It was a 5-4 loss at Connellsville and was the Spartans' first loss of the season.

“They played good, and we just didn't have it that day,” he said. “It came as a major wake-up call and really showed the kids they couldn't just show up flat and expect to win. It raised our level of awareness and propelled us into the rest of the season.”

While this chapter is closing, another one is starting. Despite the imminent graduation losses of several key team members, the cupboard is left far from bare for next season.

The Spartans will return a host of key contributors, headlined by rising senior-to-be Joey DeFloria and pitcher Tyler Tubbs. Both, Buzzard said, had outstanding junior years. DeFloria is considered a top college prospect and is already being scouted by several major league organizations.

“We're excited for next year already,” Buzzard said. “We obviously lost a lot of good pitching, but overall we have a good crop coming back. Guys like Tyler and Marc Demilio will step into bigger pitching roles and should have big seasons. They got some good experience this year. The expectations are high here. We're going to get back at it, and the kids will work real hard in the offseason.”

Brian Hunger is a freelance writer.

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