Hempfield baseball team rolls into WPIAL title game with win over Norwin

Tuesday, May 25, 2021 | 10:10 PM

Hempfield is headed to a WPIAL baseball championship game for the first time in school history.

Christian Zilli had three hits, four RBIs and closed out Hempfield’s 12-2 rout of Norwin following Jake Kramer’s strong start for the third-seeded Spartans in the Class 6A semifinals on Tuesday at Latrobe.

Hempfield (15-7) will face top-seeded North Allegheny (19-3) in the championship game June 1 or 2 at Wild Things Park in Washington, Pa.

“We played our best game of the year tonight, and we needed to do that,” Hempfield coach Tim Buzzard said.

It was the fourth semifinals appearance in eight years for the Spartans, but the first time they came away with a victory. In 2018, they blew a 4-2 lead late against North Allegheny and wasted an opportunity to play for a WPIAL title.

Not so this time around against No. 2 Norwin (14-4). The rubber game of the season series went to Hempfield in a big way.

The Spartans batted around, scoring five runs in the second inning with two out, with Zilli’s two-run double capping the outburst.

Norwin got a run back in the third on Alex Gabauer’s RBI double and another in the fifth when EJ Dunn doubled, moved to third on an error and scored on a wild pitch.

The Knights left the bases loaded in the fifth and sixth innings.

“If we get a big hit in either of those innings, we’re right back in the game,” Norwin coach Mike Liebdzinski said. “But that’s not how it worked out. They jumped on us early, kept adding on and by far was the better team tonight. There’s not much more to say about it.”

Hempfield took a 6-1 lead in the top of the fifth on Gage Wheaton’s RBI single before Norwin made it 6-2 in the bottom of the inning when Dunn came around to score.

Hempfield’s Phil Fox made a spectacular, diving catch of Ty Stecko’s deep fly ball, crashing into the center-field fence to lead off the sixth. But Norwin still managed to load the bases and chase Kramer before Zilli, who pitched 1⅓ scoreless innings, came on to end the threat.

Then, the Spartans erupted again, putting the game out of reach by sending 12 batters to the plate and scoring six runs on seven hits, including two-run doubles by Zilli and Ryan Firmstone.

“It got away at the end, but we were never at ease,” Buzzard said. “Our guys were good offensively all night. I’m excited, our team is excited and it’s going to be awesome going to play in the championshp game.”

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