Hempfield faces District 1 power Spring-Ford in PIAA Class 6A quarterfinals

Wednesday, June 9, 2021 | 4:43 PM

Every high school athletic team faced some sort of adversity this year.

It varied from the coronavirus to injuries to wild weather.

Hempfield baseball had its share of injuries to key players.

But the Spartans battled through those problems and are in the PIAA Class 6A quarterfinals for the second time in school history.

Hempfield (16-8) will face Spring-Ford, the fifth-place team from District 1 (Philadelphia suburbs), at 4 p.m. Thursday at Bald Eagle Area High School in Wingate. Spring-Ford (19-3) was seeded No. 1 in the District 1 tournament but was upset in the quarterfinals by North Penn.

The Spartans, in their PIAA first-round game, advanced Monday with a solid team effort against District 10 champion McDowell, winning 7-2.

Spring-Ford bounced back to win two games in the District 1 play-back tournament and opened PIAA playoffs with a 6-1 victory against Wilson (West Lawn), the District 3 champion.

Injuries forced Hempfield coach Tim Buzzard to switch his defense, and numerous players stepped up to fill in spots.

The Spartans lost starting junior shortstop Joe Fiedor to an arm injury for the season, senior first baseman Michael Hosni for 12 games, catcher Lucas Anderson for the start of the playoffs and junior second baseman Aiden Dunlap for eight games to start the season.

But stepping in were senior third baseman Hunter Smiles, junior second baseman Austin Corona, freshman catcher Carson Shuglie and junior first baseman Noah Zadroga.

“I’ve been forced to use new lineups throughout the season,” Buzzard said. “We’ve had a lot of players step up and play multiple games. I couldn’t be prouder of this group and how they’ve handled different adversities. They’ve been resilient.”

The Spartans finished the regular season strong and were section co-champions with Norwin. Hempfield then defeated Norwin in the WPIAL semifinals.

And after a loss to North Allegheny in the WPIAL championship game, the Spartans bounced back to beat McDowell.

Spring-Ford also had to bounce back from a loss. Buzzard is searching the internet for information about the Rams.

“We’re definitely faced with a huge challenge,” Buzzard said. “We’ll have to play our best baseball.

“They’re a very good team. All the teams left in the playoffs are good. They have a few players going to play baseball in college at all levels. They should be a good matchup.”

The winner of the game will face the winner of the North Allegheny and Philadelphia Central game, which begins at noon at Bald Eagle.

Senior pitcher/center fielder Phil Fox has been one of the top players for the Spartans. He was the winning pitcher against McDowell.

Brandon Coughlin, who homered against McDowell, junior third baseman Ryan Firmstone, Dunlap, junior right fielder Jayson Jacob and Anderson have contributed offensively.

“Good teams find ways to get things done in the playoffs,” Buzzard said. “They pitch well, play solid defense and get timely hitting. We were able to do that against McDowell. We were fortunate and found the holes and scratched out runs.”

They’ll need a similar effort if they want to reach the state semifinals.

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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