Hempfield softball team looks to win first title since 2019

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Tuesday, May 30, 2023 | 5:06 PM


Despite its championship pedigree and reoccurring reign at the top — seven WPIAL titles, including five in a row from 2015-19 — Hempfield hasn’t won one in a while.

In fact, none of the current players have been to the WPIAL finals. They don’t know what it is like to play at Lilley Field in California.

But the Spartans (17-3) will get their first look at the title game and its pageantry at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday when they take on top-seeded Seneca Valley (17-1) for the Class 6A title.

“I have been waiting since I started playing high school softball for the chance to get to the finals,” junior outfielder Peyton Heisler said. “To have the chance to win a title is amazing.”

No. 2 seeded Hempfield rallied past rival Norwin, 8-5, in the semifinals to return to the championship for the first time since 2019.

The Spartans fell behind 5-1 against Norwin as the Knights clubbed three home runs.

But it was tied 5-5 by the third inning as the Spartans scored seven unanswered runs, including a three-run homer by Heisler that got the Spartans to within 5-4.

Sophomore pitcher Riley Miller struck out 13 in the win and allowed only one hit after the second inning.

“Peyton’s homer got us back in the game,” Miller said. “We knew it would be a rough game, but we never got down on ourselves. We wanted to get to the championship.”

Hempfield edged Seneca Valley earlier in the season, 3-2, before falling to the Raiders, 3-0, in a section finale that decided the section title.

Sophomore pitcher Lexie Hames can be overpowering, as Hempfield found out when it fanned 18 times against Hames in the second meeting.

“We played competitively with them,” Heisler said. “We just have to have the right mindset and do what we’ve been doing. I don’t think we need to change anything. (Hames) is very good. But it’s just softball.”

Just before boarding the bus last week after the semifinal at Gateway — assuming Seneca Valley had beaten Pine-Richland — coach Tina Madison foretold her team’s top priority.

“We have to learn how to hit a riseball,” she said. “It usually comes down to which team makes a mistake. We don’t want it to be us.”

Madison, a 2001 Hempfield graduate, made the WPIAL finals twice as a player, so she can provide some sense of what is to come.

“You have to be well prepared,” Madison said. “It’s like anything else: an exam, an event in your life. You feel better about it when you’re prepared.”

More recently, Hempfield assistant coach Ali Belgiovane won three WPIAL titles with the Spartans from 2015-17.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” Belgiovane said. “You have to have confidence in your abilities and not let nerves take over. You have to treat it as another game.”

Ali’s father, Alex, was an assistant in 2019 when Hempfield mercy-ruled North Allegheny for the title at Pleasant Valley Elementary School in McMurray. He remains on staff.

The finals were not played at Cal (Pa.) that year because of renovations.

“With coach Kalp, we treated it like a business trip,” Alex Belgiovane said.

Hempfield tweaked its lineup against Norwin, moving freshman Claire Mitchell to the leadoff spot and batting Heisler third. The moves were based on past performances against Norwin.

Mitchell delivered a triple, and Heisler had four RBIs.

That means there could be moving parts going into the final. Whatever gives the Spartans their best chance to win.

“My husband and I were up all night talking about what we should do,” Madison said. “We have some options, which is nice.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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