Hempfield East wins District 31 regular season, eyes playoff run
As Hempfield East manager Scott Smith sees it, a new season starts Monday.
Smith and his team hopes the new season is a repeat performance of 2018.
That’s when Hempfield East won the District 31 American legion title, the Region 7 tournament and played in the state tournament for only the second time in their history.
Top-seeded Hempfield East opens defense of its District 31 championship when it hosts Murrysville, the eighth-place team in the regular season, in the opening round at 5:30 p.m. Monday at Pitt-Greensburg.
“We’re ready to defend our title,” Smith said. “Everyone on the roster is looking forward to big things. Winning the regular season is a big accomplish because we’re in such a competitive league.
“Any team can beat you if you’re not ready to play. Finishing first is a tribute to the players’ dedication and hard work, and the hard work of the coaching staff.”
Hempfield East finished the regular season at 15-2-1. Bushy Run, last season’s runner-up, ended the year 13-3.
“This is a strong league,” Smith said. “You have to play well to advance. I feel we’ve got a pretty good chance at advancing because of our pitching and defense.”
East has a strong staff led by Hempfield’s Shane Stuchell, who was 10-1 with an 1.39 ERA. Andrew Rosenberg, who played at Greensburg Salem, is 4-0 with a 2.31 ERA.
Smith used 10 pitchers during the regular season. He said everyone will be available for the playoffs. Greensburg Salem ace Matt Wicker only has pitched three innings and one of Hempfield’s top hitters, Christian Zilli, has thrown eight innings.
Dom Carrera is Hempfield East’s top hitter, sporting a .486 batting average with 14 RBIs. Hempfield’s Hunter Eperesi leads East with 16 RBIs, and Wicker had 14 RBIs.
Rosenberg, who plays a smooth center field, leads the leads team with 27 hits, 28 runs and has a .482 batting average.
“We have 15 players on the roster ready to make a run in the playoffs,” Smith said. “A lot of them got a taste last year making it to states, and that’s their goal: to make it back.”
Bushy Run also has high expectations. With players from Penn-Trafford, Bushy Run had quite a season. It won the Fall League championship, reached the WPIAL Class 6A finals during the high school season and played in the state tournament.
Bushy Run hosts Kiski Valley on Monday.
“We didn’t play our best in the PIAA tournament,” Bushy Run shortstop Mario Disso said. “We’re looking to bounce back this legion season.”
Bushy Run split with Hempfield East this season and also lost to Yough, Unity and Latrobe. Hempfield East lost to Yough and tied Latrobe.
Yough coach Craig Spisak said his team is in the same spot as last year, seeded fifth. Last year, the Cougars opened with Unity. This year, it opens with Latrobe.
“It doesn’t matter who we play,” Spisak said. “We just have to go out and play our best.”
The other first round series has Unity hosting Young Township.
Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .