Armed with a deep pitching staff, Hempfield thrives in 3-game series

Thursday, April 20, 2023 | 4:54 PM

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that he used to be a pitcher, or that he enjoys the chess-match nature of the new three-game series in WPIAL Class 6A baseball.

“The thing that really gets you is how, when you go home after a game, you have all these pitching ideas in your head,” Hempfield coach Tim Buzzard said. “It really gets you thinking.”

As he wrings his hands at the dinner table and tosses and turns when he hits the pillow, Buzzard has plenty to think about with his pitching staff.

It’s like shuffling cards when he tries to match arms with opponents.

Getting the right amount of production from his starters, middle relievers, setup guys and closers has been a key factor in the Spartans taking to the new section series format.

“This is fun,” said Buzzard, who recently won his 200th career game.

Hempfield (9-3, 7-1), which moved into first place in Section 2 after a 7-6 win over Canon-McMillan in the first game of their series, has a plethora of pitchers to throw at teams, from starters Parker Donsen, John Kurdziel and Conner Burkey to several relievers, including Adam Hess, Logan Hilland, Grayson Willis and Maxwell Short.

There are more ready to step into the mix, as well.

“In 6A, you need as many arms as possible,” Buzzard said. “These guys have all pitched growing up. We know we want to develop pitchers. It’s not something that is new to us. You have to be ready for a series when you might use nine to 12 guys. You might get four games in a week, which can really push things back.”

Fourth-ranked Hempfield took a seven-game winning streak into Thursday’s game against Canon-McMillan.

Analytics are big in baseball these days, and some coaches will look at pitching that way with the three-game series and pitchers limited to 100 pitches before three days’ rest.

The rules read: 26-50 pitches, 1 day of rest; 51-75, 2 days; 76-100, 3 days.

Between 1 and 25 pitches does not require any down time.

So, with those restrictions in mind and three games in four days, all important to the section standings, coaches must take it upon themselves to know whom to start, how long to let them go and when to go to the bullpen.

“It’s interesting, because you can go with your No. 1 in Game 1 or save him for Game 3. It’s a big difference from the two-game series. And with your younger guys, you have to think about when to throw them in JV. It’s a juggling act. It makes you take some chances. I love it.”

So do his pitchers.

Donsen said depth is the biggest factor for staffs heading into series.

“Coach Buzz has a pretty good handle on who to throw, and we are lucky to have multiple guys that can come in in relief and get it done,” he said. “Coach’s experience plays a huge role on how we learned to adapt to the change, pitching the right guys at the right moment.”

Don’t expect too many complete games in 6A, unless somebody is cruising through a lineup and making short work of opponents.

Hempfield always has someone warming up.

Kurdziel was 3-1 with a 4.67 ERA in 24 innings over six appearances, while Donsen (2-0) was next at 20 1/3 innings in three appearances.

Donsen had 30 strikeouts, 14 walks and a pin-sized 0.69 ERA.

Burkey (2-0, 1.24 ERA) sat at 17 innings, while the six relievers had combined for 15 innings.

Burkey (3), Hilland, Hess and Chase Sikorski all had saves.

“We have a fair mix of speeds and arms,” Donsen said. “I think one thing all of our pitchers do well is mix their pitches well, keeping hitters off balance in the box.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at or via Twitter .


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