West Hempfield American Legion manager Bob Stokes enters every season with high hopes.
But even Stokes has been pleasantly surprised by his team's performance thus far this season. West Hempfield entered the week with 9-3 overall record and an 8-3 mark in the Southern Division of the Westmoreland County League.
"I'm rather surprised by how well we've played," said Stokes. "We're better than I expected. We've had only one really bad game."
Every player on West Hempfield's roster is a student at Hempfield Area High School, but not all of them played for the Spartans varsity.
"I have four kids in my starting lineup who didn't even make the high school team, and only one who started this year," Stokes said. "I thought we would have good pitching. I didn't expect to be scoring as many runs as we've scored."
West Hempfield scored 100 runs in its first 12 games, an average of 8.3 runs per game.
"This is my 11th season as West Hempfield's head coach," Stokes said. "We've qualified for the [Westmoreland County League] playoffs seven of the past 10 years."
West Hempfield entered the week with seven games remaining, including three against Latrobe.
"All three of our losses were to Hempfield East," Stokes said. "How well we do in our three games against Latrobe will decide where we finish in the regular-season standings."
West Hempfield has three players who recently completed their first year of college, but none are playing collegiate ball.
"Dan Norris and Bryan Morrison are four-year starters for me," Stokes said. "It's great to have them back on the left side of the infield."
Norris is a shortstop, who has also pitched two innings of relief. Morrison is a third baseman. Norris is hitting .538 with 14 runs scored, 15 RBIs and 10 extra base hits. Morrison is hitting .316 with 9 runs scored and 9 RBIs.
"Dan is like my coach on the field," Stokes said. "He has a good grasp of my playbook and positions the defense."
The third player currently attending college is outfielder Zach Miller, who has played left and right field. Miller is leading the team with a .500 average and 21 RBIs.
"This is the first year Zach has started for me," said Stokes. "He's been a pleasant surprise."
Stokes' top pitcher is Alex Haines, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound lefty who recently completed his sophomore season.
"Alex's fastball has been clocked at 84 miles per hour," Stokes said. "And he's only 16 years old."
Haines has a 3-2 record, a 3.66 earned run average and has struck out 34 batters in 27 innings pitched.
Haines is joined in the West Hempfield rotation by Kyle Anderson, Jon Murphy and Christian Hensler. Anderson has a 2-1 record and a 3.05 ERA in 21 innings pitched. Murphy has a 3-0 record and a 4.50 ERA in 12 innings pitched. Hensler has a 1-0 record and a 4.32 ERA in 16 innings pitched.
Anderson also plays first base and has a .333 average and 8 RBIs. Murphy often plays right field when he's not pitching and has a .313 average. Hensler is strictly a pitcher.
Other players making significant contributions to West Hempfield's success are center fielder Kyle McGinnis, second baseman Jeff Cumming and the catching tandem of Cory Clemens and Kyle Zaveri. McGinnis is batting .346 in the No. 9 spot in the lineup.
Stokes keeps the team members and their supporters updated on the team's progress by means of an efficient web site.
"My former scorekeeper and current Junior Legion coach, Gary Harvat, designed the web page," Stokes said. "I do the updating. The kids use it all the time. It's been a great way to publicize our team."