Zilli leads Hempfield into WPIAL Class 6A baseball championship game

Monday, May 31, 2021 | 4:03 PM

Dinner time at the Zilli house used to turn into a competition, which confirms a couple of things.

One, Christian Zilli learned how to win at a young age. And, two, Christian Zilli eats his vegetables.

“It’s not OK to lose in our household,” said Zilli, a Hempfield senior shortstop who will lead the third-seeded Spartans (15-7) against No. 1 North Allegheny (19-3) on Tuesday night in the WPIAL Class 6A championship at Wild Things Park in Washington. “The green bean-eating contest was always a big thing. It was a race to get done with your vegetables.”

Zilli is an only child, so he doesn’t have a big brother to toughen him up or lean on for sports advice. No, he gets that fulfillment from his father, Dave, who is the high school principal at Greensburg Salem.

“My dad has helped me with everything,” Zilli said. “He has really helped me with the mental approach. We have had some driveway (basketball) battles, and I have been elbowed in the nose and pushed down to the ground. Everything I have done (in sports) is because of what he has taught me. I have a great support system. I don’t think my parents have missed three games in my entire life.”

Christian Zilli has to be near the top of the ballot for the school’s athlete of the year. Multisport athletes at the 6A level are not as common as one might think.

Zilli has shined in three.

He was the quarterback of the football team, throwing for 687 yards and eight touchdowns in a covid-plagued season that was cut to five games. He also averaged 11.9 points and 6.2 rebounds to help guide the Spartans basketball team to the WPIAL Class 6A quarterfinals.

But baseball is his bread and butter. The Seton Hill commit has provided a spark in both of Hempfield’s playoff wins. He went 2 for 3 and smacked a tying, two-run double off the fence to help Hempfield rally for a 6-4 win over No. 6 Central Catholic.

“I try to play with confidence and humility,” Zilli said. “And I want to lead the team by example as well.”

When the Spartans thumped second-seeded Norwin, 12-2, he ripped a pair of two-run doubles.

He also pitched in relief in both victories.

North Allegheny has a talented and fast lineup that will look to create an early cushion against the Spartans, who lost to the Tigers, 12-5, earlier in the season.

“They are so clean in how they play defense, and they can hit,” Zilli said of North Allegheny. “We can’t be thinking about driving the ball out of the park. We have to keep it simple.”

Zilli, who is hitting .338 with 24 RBIs and 10 doubles, has the respect of his teammates and coaches.

“He’s our captain and biggest role model,” Spartans senior pitcher and outfielder Phil Fox said. “He picks everyone up. We wouldn’t be the same team without him.”

Hempfield coach Tim Buzzard agreed with that last part. He appreciates the way in which Zilli plays the game: no flair or flex, just competition, effort and guidance.

“We knew what we were getting with him in ninth grade,” Buzzard said. “He is like another coach, from a maturity standpoint.

“He handles everything in such a positive way. When he comes up to bat, we feel good. And when we ask him to pitch, he wants the ball.”

And he won’t turn down an extra helping of green beans.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .


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