Westmoreland County Boys Athlete of the Year: Christian Zilli, Hempfield

Saturday, July 10, 2021 | 8:09 PM

It’s a rare feat when an athlete from a large high school excels in three sports.

It happens more often at smaller schools, but usually not in larger classifications.

Hempfield’s Christian Zilli is an exception.

As a senior, Zilli was the quarterback on the football team, one of the top players on the basketball team and helped lead the baseball team to the WPIAL Class 6A championship game for the first time in school history.

And by the way, he’s an outstanding student. He was a finalist for an Excellence Award at the at the 65th annual Westmoreland County Scholar/Athlete Award banquet hosted by Judge John J. Driscoll at Ferrante’s Lakeview Lounge. He also was homecoming king.

He maintained a 98.5 grade-point average and his class rank was 28 of 443. He will stay close to home and play baseball for Marc Marizzaldi at Seton Hill.

Because of what he achieved his senior season, Zilli was named the Tribune-Review Westmoreland Male Athlete of the Year. He beat out Belle Vernon junior Devin Whitlock, Franklin Regional junior Caden Smith, Derry senior Ryan Bushey, Mt. Pleasant senior Jonas King and Greensburg Central Catholic senior Dylan Sebek, who competed in five sports, for the award.

Zilli came back out his senior season to become the starting quarterback on the football team. He said he wanted to play a sport he loved with his friends.

He picked up the offense quickly. He completed 50 of 98 passes for 687 yards and eight touchdowns. He also rushed for 171 yards and a score.

On the basketball team, Zilli was a Trib Westmoreland Terrific 10 first-team player. He was a strong all-around player and team leader who often sparked scoring runs; he had averages of 11.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists. He had numerous game-winning shots.

Hempfield basketball coach Bill Swan remembers a tying shot against Mars and a winner against Bethel Park as two examples.

“Christian was a great leader and an organizer of the basketball team,” Swan said. “We don’t have enough Christian Zillis in Westmoreland County. To play three sports in high school is awesome.

“Everyone loved him at Hempfield — teachers, coaches, teammates and student body. It says a lot to be voted homecoming king. He’s a special person.”

On the baseball field, he took it to another level.

The versatile senior began the season as the Spartans’ third baseman but switched to shortstop because of an injury.

He also was the Spartans’ top relief pitcher.

He hit .312 with 18 runs and 26 RBIs.

“He may not have been the most talented player to come through the program, but he might have been the most complete player,” Hempfield baseball coach Tim Buzzard said. “Christian was a leader, and he wasn’t afraid to reach out and help the younger players.

“He stepped in and did whatever we asked. He was a clutch hitter and a grinder on the mound. He was our best player this season.”

Zilli is going to a college that fits his needs academically and athletically.

“Seton Hill has a great baseball program,” Zilli said. “They reached the (NCAA Division II) World Series, and they’ve had players drafted and playing professional baseball. I’d like to do that too, but they also have academic (physical therapy) programs to prepare me if things don’t turn out how I want.”

Zilli said his most memorable moment of the year was playing in the WPIAL baseball championship game.

“What an awesome experience,” Zilli said. “The atmosphere, the crowd and the game is something I’ll never forget.

“We had to overcome a lot this season as a baseball team because of injuries. We showed our toughness. As for me, I tried to lead by example. I tried to help the younger players anytime I could.”

Buzzard added: “He was like a coach on the field. He was a hard worker and a leader.”

Paul Schofield is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Paul by email at pschofield@triblive.com or via Twitter .


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