There was a time when Zack Martinelli struggled to keep his cool.
A senior pitcher for the Hempfield Area High School baseball team, Martinelli has learned to control his emotions from the pitcher's mound.
"When I was younger, I put too much pressure on myself and when I struggled on the mound, I'd lose it," said Martinelli, who lives in Hempfield Township. "My mechanics would go south. I would overthrow and begin to miss the strike zone. I would take myself completely out of games.
"But as I matured and got older, I realized I couldn't do that because I was only hurting myself and my team."
Martinelli, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound right-hander, has been a stable and reliable ace pitcher for the Spartans (19-4) all season.
"Zack has done a great job for us," Hempfield coach Tim Buzzard said. "We expected him to be a dominant pitcher for us and has done a great job since his first start this year.
"He seems to be getting stronger as the years gone on."
Despite suffering a 3-0 loss to North Allegheny during the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals, Hempfield moved on to the third-place consolation game against Pine-Richland (17-5), which was played Wednesday night at Washington & Jefferson College Field, part of the Consol Energy Field complex. The winner of the consolation game earned a berth into the PIAA playoffs.
"We've had an awesome season," said Martinelli, who is a Seton Hill University recruit. "We definitely deserved to win the games we've won. Our pitching and defense has definitely been the strength of the team. We've worked well together and always picked each other up.
"We just couldn't get the clutch hits we needed against North Allegheny. They were able to get those types of hits."
Martinelli started against the second-seeded Tigers and surrendered one run off five hits -- all singles -- in five innings.
"We may have lost that game, but Zack pitched well," Buzzard said. "He gave up a few singles, but he really kept them in check with one run."
Riding a seven-game winning streak into the playoffs, Hempfield knocked off Fox Chapel Area and Canon-McMillan in the first two rounds.
Martinelli, who threw one-hitters against Norwin and Central Catholic during the regular season, turned in a career-best performance against Fox Chapel when he struck out 18 batters to guide the Spartans to a 2-0 first-round victory.
"He's competitive and really wanted to be our ace and the leader of our pitching staff," Buzzard said. "Zack enjoys pitching in big games and wants the opportunity to put his team in a good situation to win a game."
Entering the consolation game against Pine-Richland, Martinelli owned a 5-1 record with a 2.06 ERA and 59 strikeouts in nine starts.
"He's gotten more consistent as far as the strike zone goes," Buzzard said. "Early in the season he was up and down with his command, but he has really improved throwing first-pitch strikes. He has three different looks for strikes and each of those pitches, especially his changeup has gotten better over time.
"He really has gotten better each and every time he's gone out to the mound for us."
As a junior, Martinelli posted a 5-2 record with a 3.45 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 44 innings last season.
"Over the past few seasons, Zack has really matured so much as a person," Buzzard said. "He's pitched for us since his freshman year. His junior year he really turned it on and he's been able to control his emotions and not get frustrated when things didn't go his way like he did when he was younger.
"He's been 'locked in' this season. He hasn't worried about anything around him and he's been zoned in and focused on batters."