Hempfield East, Latrobe set for series
Sunday was a day of rest for the Hempfield East and Latrobe American Legion baseball teams.
Both managers -- Hempfield East' Scott Smith and Latrobe's Jason Bush -- want their teams fresh for the start of semifinal round of the District 31 playoffs, which begin at 5:30 p.m. today at Latrobe's Legion-Keener Field.
The best-of-three series continues Wednesday and Thursday. In the other series, Kiski Valley will play host to Irwin at Freeport Community Park.
"The players needed a break," Bush said. "Both teams had hectic schedules the past week. We'll be ready."
While both managers know the importance of winning the first game of the series, neither will pitch their top pitchers. They're counting on their depth.
Ryan Bills is expected to throw for Hempfield East, which defeated West Hempfield in the first round, and Latrobe will counter with lefty Bobby Price.
"Ryan wants to ball," Smith said. "We have confidence in him."
Hempfield East took two of three games from Latrobe during the regular season. The teams split a doubleheader July 6.
"Bobby pitched well when he beat them a week ago," Bush said. "We'll stick with our rotation. Brian (Hantz) will probably pitch on Wednesday, and Brad (Burkardt) in Game 3."
Smith's top pitchers are Alex Naggy, who pitched against West Hempfield on Friday, and J.R. Radakovich, who won Saturday's game.
"We were concerned about our pitching staff coming into the season," Smith said. "But J.R., Alex, Ryan and Wes (Dugan) have done a fine job. J.R. stepped up this season.
"We knew we had a good hitting and defensive team returning. This is one of the best defenses I've coached."
Smith says his team's lineup is solid, and he's confident in his players' abilities.
"Everyone is the lineup can hit," Smith said. "Latrobe is very similar to us; it has a good hitting club."
Hantz, Spencer White, Zack Delsordo have been some of the top hitters for Latrobe.
Bush said edging out Hempfield East for the Southern Division title was significant.
"It's a huge advantage to play them at home," Bush said. "We've only lost one game at home. We'll have the last shot at bat, and some teams get frustrated playing at our field because of the size."
Hempfield East was the only team to defeat Latrobe at Legion-Keener Field.
"This is a new series," Smith said. "What happened during the regular season doesn't matter. Everyone, on both teams, should be fresh."
Bush said his only concern is Hempfield East's experience.
"They've been to the regional tournament," Bush said. "They know what it takes. We're trying to get there. We need to get over the hump.
"There shouldn't be any surprises. These teams have probably played 10 games the past year. We're very familiar with them."
Irwin coach Jason Seidling says his team carries a lot of confidence into its series against undefeated Kiski Valley (17-0). Kiski Valley won all three meetings this year.
"We've played well against them, and our players know we can compete against them," Seidling said. "Our mind-set is much better. We didn't hit well against them in the first two games and had them beat the third time we played.
"But we finished by winning 14-of-19 games. The team is full of confidence. We've come around at the right time. The four best teams in the league made the finals. I believe you'll see two good series."