Hempfield baseball ready to make another run after reaching WPIAL finals

Tuesday, March 15, 2022 | 5:14 PM

If there was one thing that stood out about the 2021 Hempfield baseball team, it was solid pitching.

With the WPIAL’s new pitching rules, playing section games on back-to-back days, the Spartans had the luxury of being deep on the mound.

Hempfield finished 16-9 overall and tied with Norwin with a 7-3 record in Section 2-6A. The Spartans reached the WPIAL finals, losing to North Allegheny, 4-0, and then won its opening game in the PIAA playoffs.

And even though they graduated two key pitchers, Phil Fox (Gardner-Webb) and Christian Zilli (Seton Hill), the Spartans should be strong on the mound with the return seniors Jake Kramer, Brandon Coughlin and Jayson Jacobs.

Kramer had a 2.37 ERA with 35 strikeouts on 38 1/3 innings. Coughlin pitched in relief and had a 3.77 ERA with 23 strikeouts in 13 innings. Others Hempfield coach Tim Buzzard hopes to contribute include junior Nate Cole, senior Noah Zadroga and senior Ethan Erhard.

The Spartans return senior shortstop Joe Fiedor, center fielder Coughlin, outfielder Jacobs, junior designated hitter Gage Wheaton, senior third baseman Ryan Firmstone, senior second baseman Aiden Dunlap and first baseman Zadroga.

Jacobs hit .403. Fiedor was hitting .387 with five doubles through nine games before an injury ended his season. Coughlin batted .355 with 22 RBIs, Firmstone hit .292 and Wheaton hit .255 with a team-high eight doubles.

“Every game is the section is a grind,” Buzzard said. “Norwin is always good, Mt. Lebanon has strong pitching and Baldwin returns a lot. “We have a lot of leadership and toughness. This group cares about the entire program.”

The Spartans graduated eight seniors. Others starters to graduate were first baseman Michael Hosni and catcher Lucas Anderson.

When Fiedor went down with injury, others stepped up. That included seniors infielder/outfielder Austin Corona and infielder/outfielder Shane Evans, sophomore catchers Carson Shuglie and Cam Biondi and junior infielder/outfielder Collin Hunter.

Five players already have made their decision about their futures: Fiedor (Seton Hill), Coughlin (Lehigh), Dunlap (Youngstown State), Zadroga (Pitt-Johnstown) and Kramer (Cal Pa.).

“This team went through a lot with the injuries we had last year,” Buzzard said. “They battled to the end by playing in the WPIAL championship game. They gained a lot of confidence.

“Nothing is a given. The key is taking care of the small things.”

If Hempfield wants to make another run at a WPIAL or PIAA titles, then securing a solid pitching staff will be the key.

Paul Schofield is a TribLive reporter covering high school and college sports and local golf. He joined the Trib in 1995 after spending 15 years at the Daily Courier in Connellsville, where he served as sports editor for 14 years. He can be reached at pschofield@triblive.com.


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