Clutch defense helps Hempfield hold off Latrobe

Thursday, March 30, 2023 | 10:11 PM

With Latrobe on Hempfield’s bumper late in Thursday’s nonsection baseball game, the host Spartans turned to their defense to bail them out of some tense moments, particularly those attached to two of the final three outs.

First baseman Adam Hess made a long throw across the diamond to knock out the potential tying run, then third baseman Caden Biondi gunned a throw to Hess, who stretched out to complete the game-ending putout as the Spartans won 4-3 to build momentum for the start of section play next week.

“We have what it takes to win,” Spartans senior Gage Wheaton said. “As long as we come in and focus. We made the plays we needed to make.”

Class 6A Hempfield (2-2) rallied from a 1-0 deficit, built a 4-1 lead, then held off 5A Latrobe (2-2) in a game that had just six hits, three from each side, and mutually choppy play.

The Spartans trotted out four pitchers, changing speeds with Parker Donsen, Connor Burkey, Hess and Logan Hilland.

Burkey earned the win with two scoreless innings of middle relief, and Hilland picked up the save.

“We were able to get some quality work before section play starts,” Hempfield coach Tim Buzzard said. “This was not our best job offensively, but we had just enough to get by.

“We made some big plays in the sixth and seventh.”

Latrobe, despite four errors and seven strikeouts, still had a chance late. A wild pitch and run-producing groundout by Riley Smith allowed the Wildcats to plate two runs and get within 4-3 in the sixth.

The Wildcats loaded the bases with one out against Hess.

But after a groundout, the rally ended when Luke Nipar was called for interference after he ran inside the baseline on his way to first.

Hempfield catcher Colin Polechko’s putout attempt hit Nipar on the back of the helmet.

“We could see it from (the Hempfield dugout),” Buzzard said. “It was the right call.”

Tyler Fazekas delivered a pinch-hit single to start the top of the seventh. A pick-off throw to first skipped away, and courtesy runner Dante Basciano sprinted around second and headed for third. But Hess chased the ball down and zipped a strike to third to nail Basciano.

“He has an arm,” Wheaton said of Hess. “It isn’t always accurate, but this time it was.”

After a flyout, Louie Amatucci grounded to Biondi, who fired to first, where Hess did a full split to stay on the bag and record the final out, drawing disapproval from Latrobe’s coaches.

“This was good competition for us. It’s 6A baseball,” Latrobe coach Matt Basciano said. “We wanted this kind of game. We fought until the end. It’s not about wins and losses (in early nonsection games). It’s bigger picture.”

Latrobe took a 1-0 lead in the second after a Hempfield pick-off attempt went awry with runners at first and third.

In the third, the Spartans took a 2-1 edge as Dominick Cararini issued a bases-loaded walk, and Burkey knocked in a run on a fielder’s choice down the line to third.

Wheaton, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL, had two hits, including a triple to right center with two outs in the fifth.

Carson Shuglie followed with an RBI single, and consecutive throwing errors gave Hempfield a 4-1 lead.

“We talked about the freebies,” Matt Basciano said. “That is definitely a big area to address moving ahead.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at

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