Hempfield fends off fierce Canon-McMillan rally to win battle for 1st place

Monday, April 17, 2023 | 10:06 PM

There was no sun, no blue skies, no comfortable temperatures in the area Monday. The weather was wet, windy and raw with the mercury barely cracking 40 degrees.

But for the Hempfield baseball team, it was a beautiful day.

The Spartans held off Canon-McMillan, 7-6 at Wild Things Park in Washington, taking over sole possession of first place in Section 2-6A.

“That was brutal conditions for sure,” Hempfield coach Tim Buzzard said. “That was a hard-fought win and we needed every out. Canon-Mac, credit to them, they kept coming back and coming back. We did just enough to hold on.”

It was a rough start for Canon-McMillan junior Roman Mollenauer as Hempfield scored four runs in the first inning.

Junior Carson Shuglie singled home junior Caden Biondi, who led off the game with a hit. Senior Gage Wheaton and Shuglie scored on wild pitches and junior Parker Donson scored the fourth Spartans run on a sacrifice fly by junior Max Short.

“It’s always tough when you get behind early,” Canon-McMillan coach Brendon Steele said. “Give Hempfield credit, they were ready to go from the first pitch. We made too many mistakes during the course of the game, including myself.”

After the Big Macs got on the scoreboard with a run in the third inning, the Spartans added on with three more runs in the fifth.

Sophomore Dylan Firmstone singled home Donson, then Short chased home senior Connor Burkey and Firmstone with a two-run single.

A six-run deficit looked like it would be lights out for the Big Macs thanks to the pitching of junior Jack Kurdziel, the Spartans starter.

“Jack did great. He threw strikes and stayed ahead,” Buzzer said. “He’s a real competitive kid that always does a nice job when his number is called. When you get four in the first, it’s a really good feeling, but sometimes it’s easier to stay sharp when the game is intense.”

Kurdziel was chased in the sixth inning when Canon-McMillan scored a pair of runs, one of which was unearned.

Trailing 7-3 in the bottom of the seventh inning, senior Jake Egizio led off with his second extra base hit of the game, a double down the left field line. Sophomore Tyler Mead followed with a single to center. Egizio tried to score, but Wheaton came up gunning and threw a strike to home plate, where Biondi applied the tag for the first out of the inning.

“That was a really nice throw by Gage,” Buzzard said. “I thought our defense was very sound considering the conditions.”

The out became huge when senior Austyn Winklebech followed with a single and Conner Helbling walked to load the bases.

When Biondi tried to pick off Mead at third, his throw hit the base and deflected into left field, allowing both Mead and Winkleblech to score as Helbling went to third base.

Senior Andrew Kocan, who has three home runs this season, flied out to deep center field to score Helbling and make it a one-run game.

“I love our fight,” Steele said. “They battle until the last out. It says a lot about their character. We need to put seven solid innings together in all phases moving forward.”

Burkey, brought in to finish the game in the seventh inning, retired Fixx on a ground out as the Spartans held on for the win.

Hempfield (6-1, 8-3) is alone in first place, one game ahead of Canon-McMillan (5-2, 7-3) in Section 2-6A. The teams will play at Hempfield on Tuesday and back at Wild Things Park on Thursday afternoon to complete the three-game series.

“That was a good one to get,” Buzzard said. “We try to put some pressure on the other side. That has been our goal throughout these series. There is still a lot of series left, and anything can happen on any given day, and we know that. We know we’re going to have a battle the next two days we play.”

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