Despite loss to Hempfield East, Unity remains among contenders in District 31 Legion
A day after Unity was beaten in the final at-bat by league-leading Hempfield East in a District 31 American Legion baseball game at Pitt-Greensburg, Unity’s players began to trickle onto Whitney Field for a workout, appearing eager to move on.
“This is your team. It’s not for me,” said Unity coach Ed Guzik, repeating the mantra for which he faithfully abides. “It’s your team. You play for each other. Don’t do this for me.”
Guzik continually emphasizes the joy in playing baseball, and he figures each season his players will either catch on to his advice or they won’t.
“We play to have fun, but we’re serious about this,” Guzik said.
Most would say it wasn’t much fun for Unity to have dropped the 6-5 decision Tuesday to defending champion Hempfield East after opening up an early 5-0 lead.
But you wouldn’t have known it by the way the players appeared the next day. They appeared eager to get back on the field, despite the suddenly hot conditions.
“It’s just a little more relaxing here,” said pitcher/first baseman Justin Stott, who played high school baseball at Latrobe. “I don’t want to say it’s less serious, but it seems like a lot less pressure (than in high school).
“It’s just a lot of fun, but we take it seriously.”
It’s seemingly a product of Guzik’s “play-to-have-fun” rhetoric, which he assumed would carry over to Thursday night at Young Township. The game was postponed because of rain.
The teams are tied for fourth place at 6-4 in the 10-team District 31 standings.
Hempfield East (10-1-1) leads Bushy Run (8-3) by two games — Bushy Run was scheduled to host Yough on Thursday at Penn-Trafford High School, but it also was postponed — and Guzik referred to the two leaders as “the cream of the crop.”
“Then, you have the bottom,” he said. “But all it takes is one pitch, one thing to happen, and teams get upset. Everybody else is equal.”
Hempfield East, which suffered its first loss of the season Wednesday, 6-1, to Bushy Run, rallied a day earlier against Unity with a run in the fourth, four in the fifth and the game-decider in the seventh, giving Hempfield East victories in both meetings between the teams.
It comes a year after Hempfield East edged Unity, 3-2, to win the District 31 championship en route to a Region 7 title and a trip to the Pennsylvania American Legion tournament.
“We definitely have a great team,” said catcher/pitcher Preston Boerio, another Latrobe product, who currently is enrolled at Florida, where he plays for the university’s club team.
“The only thing holding us back right now is that one inning, where we kind of let up,” Boerio said. “There were two games against Hempfield and Bushy Run this season, where it was probably a two-run game, either up or down. In one game, we gave up eight runs in one inning, and in the other, we gave up seven.”
On Tuesday, the situation wasn’t as severe for Unity, which yielded a four-spot in the fifth to allow Hempfield East to tie the score, 5-5, before losing in the by a run in the seventh.
“We’ve got a lot of returning guys, so we all know what we have to do,” Boerio said. “Right now, we’re trying to find a way to correct that one bad inning.”
Guzik prefers to simplify the approach.
“When you have a team like that down, you’ve got to keep the pressure on them,” he said. “Hempfield chipped away and chipped away — good teams always will — and they found a way to win.”
It is perhaps a measure of inspiration for his own players. After all, as Guzik preaches, “This is your team.”
Dave Mackall is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.