Clutch hits, bullpen lift Hempfield baseball past Penn-Trafford

Friday, April 30, 2021 | 9:39 PM

Like sunshine that finally peeked through a slate gray sky to warm up an otherwise wet and windy Friday afternoon, Hempfield shined when it mattered most.

The Spartans rallied from a late two-run deficit to clip host Penn-Trafford, 7-6, in a nonsection baseball game in Harrison City, ending the Warriors’ nine-game winning streak and extending their own to four.

Junior Jayson Jacob and senior Phil Fox served up back-to-back singles with the bases loaded, Fox’s two-run knock giving Hempfield the lead for good in the top of the sixth, as the Spartans (10-5) won for the eighth time in nine outings.

The Spartans managed to squeeze a lot out of an out-of-section game that looked grim for them early. They went from wishing for a cancellation or postponement due to inclement weather — regretting making the trip after falling behind early, even — to fist-bumping and celebrating a fun rally.

“It’s tough because you want to get guys reps in games like this and still keep sharp for section play,” Hempfield coach Tim Buzzard said. “It was nice to get guys some reps and some live at-bats, and it’s definitely a bonus to get the win.”

Hempfield, ranked No. 5 in Class 6A, used five pitchers to keep Penn-Trafford (10-4) in check after the 5A Warriors built a 6-1 lead after two innings.

Senior Christian Zilli relieved senior starter Hunter Smiles in the fourth, senior Tyler Mull followed, junior Brandon Coughlin came on in the fifth, and Jacob finished. Penn-Trafford did not get a hit after the fourth.

“Our pitchers really gave us the opportunity to come back like we did,” said Fox, a Gardner-Webb commit who went 3 for 4 with a double and three RBIs. “I had a two-strike count (on the go-ahead RBI) and had my hands in because I was trying to protect. I made a lot of hard outs early in the season, and it has been stressful. I have been getting more breaks, and that has allowed be to get more hits lately.”

Conversely, Penn-Trafford also sent out five arms but struggled to get outs in the fifth when the Spartans started their comeback. Fox’s hard single was followed by another infield hit by Coughlin to make it 6-4. Jacob led off with a single to left and stole second.

Coughlin was the winning pitcher despite tossing only one inning of relief.

“We lay a six-spot on them and then get complacent,” Penn-Trafford coach Dan Miller said. “We need to learn how to finish. We need that will to win. This game needs to be a lesson learned for our guys.”

In the sixth, walks to three of the first four Spartans hitters set the table for Jacob and Fox, who hit 1-2 in the order.

Jacob also had three hits.

“Jacob and Phil had a couple of big hits there,” Buzzard said. “Clutch hits. They came through for us.”

Penn-Trafford won three home games via walk-offs earlier in the season, but Hempfield made sure there was no such drama this time.

“The magic has worn out,” Miller said.

A four-run first had the Warriors in control early. A two-run double by sophomore catcher Jakob Haynes was followed by a run-scoring single from sophomore Dylan Grabowski.

Sophomore Jake Otto then a lasered two-out single off Zilli’s glove and into left to make it 4-1.

A wild pitch allowed a run to score, and a sacrifice fly from Haynes gave the Warriors a 6-1 advantage in the home half of the second.

An error gave Hempfield its second run.

Hempfield took a 1-0 lead in the first on a bases-loaded groundout by Zilli.

Haynes drove in three, while freshman Jason Sabol went 2 for 3.

Penn-Trafford had scored eight or more runs in seven of nine games during its winning streak.

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

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