Hempfield East cruises past Punxsutawney in opening round of Region 7 Legion tournament
All along this season, Andrew Rosenberg and his Hempfield East teammates have noticed the difference.
Now that they’ve opened defense of their American Legion Baseball Region 7 championship with a 14-4 rout of Punxsutawney on Friday at Latrobe Legion-Keener Field, they appear hungrier than ever.
Hempfield East, which lost to Bushy Run in the District 31 championship game, still hopes to make a return to the state tournament, where in 2018 it barely fielded enough players to compete.
“We didn’t have everybody for states last year,” Rosenberg said, “and we didn’t win states. Everybody took that seriously, and now, we have our full team. No vacations this year. We’re ready to go.”
Rosenberg had three hits and three RBIs and Matt Wicker also had three hits and drove in two as Hempfield East (20-3-1) roared back from a one-run deficit to run past Punxsutawney (13-3) and advance to a second-round regional game against none other than Bushy Run at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Derry Middle School.
“We love to play together,” Rosenberg said. “Everybody’s clicking and having a good time.”
Already, that 4-0 loss Tuesday to Bushy Run in the Region 31 title game, is behind Hempfield East, coach Scott Smith said. A rematch was in store for Saturday.
“We just keep expressing to these guys, if the opportunity strikes, you’ve got to grab it,” Smith said.
Punxsutawney led Hempfield East, 2-1, in the second on Adison Neal’s RBI single after both teams put up a run in the first.
Hempfield East scored first on Wicker’s RBI single before Punxsutawney tied it on Tanner LaBenne’s run-scoring hit.
Hempfield East chased Punxsy starter Aaron Park with a five-run uprising in the fourth that gave it a 6-2 lead, and the winners pulled away with four more runs in the fifth to go up 10-2.
“Our bats came alive, and we had good, aggressive base running,” Smith said. “We had some hit-and-runs early that really changed the tempo of the game and really opened things up for us.”
Hempfield East patched together five hits in the five-run fourth, including DaJuhn Hertzog’s RBI double and run-scoring singles by Rosenberg and Wicker.
Rosenberg’s two-run double highlighted Hempfield East’s four-run fifth.
Reed Hipps, who pitched 2 1/3 effective innings in relief of winner Shane Stuchell, doubled home a run during a two-run sixth for Hempfield East. Hipps had two hits and scored four runs.
“Reed did a good job coming in and holding them,” Smith said.
Hempfield East took a business-like approach shortly afterward, clearing the gear quickly to make way for the tournament’s next game.
Rosenberg lugged his bag out of the dugout and flashed a smile.
“We have the chemistry to make another run,” he said. “As long as we stay up in the game, have a good time and hit and field the ball like we know we can, that’s how you win games.”
Having a deep roster doesn’t hurt, either.
Dave Mackall is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.