Hempfield bounces back to earn split with Upper St. Clair

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021 | 11:31 PM


Hempfield not only won a section baseball game Tuesday evening, it also was able to put a check in the box next to the team’s mental toughness.

A day after losing a three-run lead in the seventh inning and losing in eight innings to Upper St. Clair at home, the Spartans bounced back nicely with a 6-3 victory over the same Panthers team under the lights at the Boyce-Mayview Complex.

Hempfield led 4-1 heading into the final inning Monday only to have USC tie it with three runs, then have the Panthers go on to win, 6-4.

“I just told out kids we were so proud of them,” Hempfield coach Tim Buzzard said. “The character came through, and guys fought like crazy. That might have been as tough of a regular season loss I remember us having since we’ve been here. To come back the next night on the road, against a very good team, just says so much about our guys.”

The mental test came early for the Spartans. With two on and nobody out in the first inning, senior Christian Zilli lined a ball to right field that the Panthers Owen Mandler jumped and made a great catch. Hempfield’s Phil Fox thought he tagged up and moved to third; however, after a USC appeal on the tag, the umpire ruled he left early and a big inning for the Spartans looked like it might fizzle.

However, junior Brandon Coughlin singled home Joe Fiedor after the junior stole second and went to third on a throwing error. The Spartans had taken a 1-0 lead.

“That was huge, a two-out hit there to bail us out after that play,” Buzzard said. “We really thought we had a chance to break it open there.”

Both teams scored in the fourth inning, Hempfield on a bases-loaded fielder’s choice and Upper St. Clair on a strikeout and wild pitch leading to a run.

Hempfield took advantage of a dropped pop-up for a big three-run fifth inning. With runners at first and second and two out, Zilli delivered a huge hit for Hempfield by driving an 0-2 pitch to the fence in left field to score courtesy runner Adam Dunlap and Fiedor. Zilli then scored on a second run-scoring single by Coughlin to put Hempfield up, 5-1.

The Panthers finally got to Spartans starter Jake Kramer in the sixth inning. Kent State recruit Jake Casey singled and scored on a Max Mandler single. Kramer was taken out after USC loaded the bases on a walk to Owen Mandler and a single by pinch hitter Conner Schmitt.

Zilli came on in relief and despite giving up an RBI single to Tim Speer, he forced a pair of Panthers to pop up and left the bases loaded with Hempfield up by three runs.

USC went quietly against Zilli in the seventh inning.

“I think we will be a dangerous team once we realize how good we can be,” Upper St. Clair coach Jerry Malarkey said after his team committed five errors, leading to four unearned runs.

Kramer picked up the win, allowing three earned runs on seven hits with two walks and six strikeouts in 5⅓ innings pitched.

“Jake was awesome,” Buzzard said. “When you’re in that situation, you need a guy to come in and stop the bleeding. We’ve had three brutal losses late in the game this year, and our game plan (Tuesday) was to come out here and dominate the strike zone, and that’s what he did.”

The Hempfield victory, combined with Tuesday wins by Baldwin and Mt. Lebanon, leave the entire Section 2-6A at 1-1 after the first week of back-to-back section play.

“Not surprising,” Buzzard said. “We were talking before the game. This section is tough. There could be some good teams that miss the playoffs. That’s the one thing great about 6A. It’s great baseball. All the teams are tough.”

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