Hempfield baseball bounces back from WPIAL finals loss to win state playoff opener

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Monday, June 7, 2021 | 5:20 PM


ERIE – After an early morning departure from Hempfield Area High School and a long trip to Erie, pitcher Phil Fox wasn’t going to waste time against McDowell.

The standout pitcher consistently threw three pitches for strikes and worked ahead in the count to throw five shutout innings. Christian Zilli shut the door over the final two innings as Hempfield beat McDowell, 7-2, in a PIAA Class 6A first-round playoff game Monday at Mercyhurst.

“My off-speed was working well, and the fastball command was there all day,” said Fox, who struck out two and allowed just three hits in five innings. “The defense played great, and I couldn’t pitch like that without them.”

Hempfield (16-8) moves on to the quarterfinals Thursday, and McDowell ends the season 14-7.

Fox and McDowell starting pitcher Dan Snyder were dominating early. Neither allowed a runner to advance to third base until the fifth inning.

With one out in the top of the fifth, Luke Anderson hit an infield single, and Jayson Jacob beat out a bunt. Fox followed with an RBI single before Zilli produced a sacrifice fly to give the Spartans a 2-0 lead.

McDowell then had a big chance slip away in the bottom of the inning. Nate Hayes drew a leadoff walk, went to second on a passed ball and to third on a Matt Demski hit. A flyout wasn’t deep enough to score Hayes, then Hempfield turned a 6-3 double play to end the inning.

“Our defense made some great plays across the board, from the double plays to the pickoff to several nice catches,” said Hempfield coach Tim Buzzard. “Phil was really good today. He threw three pitches for strikes and was able to limit his pitch count against a pretty good lineup.”

Hempfield used the momentum to add four runs in the sixth. The Spartans loaded the bases with one out on a check-swing single, a hit by pitch and a walk. Snyder had to come out after two batters because he reached 100 pitches, and the Trojans went to right fielder Spencer Dietz.

Michael Hosni was hit by a pitch to bring in a run before another scored on a wild pitch.

The Spartans went to the small-ball gameplan with runners on second and third. Both runners took off on a pitch, and both scored by the time Anderson’s bunt was played to first to make it 6-2. Brandon Coughlin added a solo home run in the seventh.

McDowell tried to get back in it in the sixth as Snyder singled in a run, and Hayes drew a bases-loaded walk. But Zilli picked off a runner at first then got a strikeout to end the threat.

“We couldn’t get a hit when we needed it, and they had a few rallies that started with check-swing hits,” said McDowell coach Mark Soboleski. “They got the timely hits.”

Jacob finished with three hits for the Spartans, who overcame a long day to play one of their best games of the year.

“We were ready to go and couldn’t wait to get back out there after the loss in the WPIAL championship,” Buzzard said. “We hit the reset button for the state playoffs. It was an early game and a long trip, but the guys were ready.”

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