East Xtra: Hempfield hoping to match 2013 results

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There have been successful baseball teams that have represented Hempfield Area High School, but none can compare to the 2013 Spartans.

Hempfield enjoyed the most successful season in program history last year, going 20-5 and winning the Class AAAA Section 2 title for the first time since 2008 and reaching the WPIAL semifinals and PIAA playoffs for the first time.

"I think our last few year's have been the same with our team," seventh-year Spartans coach Tim Buzzard said. "Each year we have gotten a little bit better and taken the next jump.

"It was a special year based on where we got to. We have the same expectations [this year]. We want to qualify for the playoffs and win the section. We want to challenge ourselves to do the same type of thing."

With expectations running high, the Spartans are looking to build on last year's success and are off to a great start.

Hempfield is 5-0 with four wins coming on the road and they weren't against "gimme" opponents. The Spartans opened the season with a 3-1 win at Mt. Lebanon. The offense began clicking in their next two games with 11-6 and 19-6 wins at Pine-Richland and Greensburg Salem, respectively.

They followed up with Section 2-AAAA wins against Norwin, 4-3, on Monday and Kiski Area, 16-5, Tuesday.

"It helps a lot," Buzzard said. "We try to load up our schedule with as many quality teams as we can. They were all tough games and we were tested and our kids rebounded well.

"It is always good to have quality wins on your resume. They are good teams that will have a lot of success this year. Those were important to us and it was exciting to get those wins."

One of the top reasons the Spartans offense has been flowing is outfielder Joe DeFloria. DeFloria has been a member of the varsity team since he was a freshman.

"He is a four-year starter for us," Buzzard said. "He was all-state his sophomore year. We expect it from him. He is an exceptional athlete and will play football in college at Bucknell. We expect him to be an impact bat for us in the middle of the order and make noise on the bases. He works extremely hard. He is more of a leader by example. He just goes about his business."

On the mound, seniors Tyler Tubbs and Marc Demilio will tag team the duties of replacing three senior pitchers from last year including standout, Zach Martinelli.

Tubbs, a Pitt-Johnstown recruit, recorded three wins last year and accumulated 26 innings of work. Demilio, a Gannon commit, has been on the varsity squad for two years and brings with him playoff experience.

Other returning starters for the Spartans are senior catcher Tyler Hensler, senior outfielder Jeff Livengood and sophomore infielder Matt Tarabek.

If the Spartans could change one thing from last year, it would more than likely be not having to face North Allegheny in the playoffs. The Tigers beat the Spartans three times last year, including in the WPIAL semifinals and in the first round of the PIAA playoffs.

"North Allegheny is an elite program," Buzzard said. "Two years ago we beat them in the regular season. They are all very competitive. They just made more plays than us last year. The opportunities we had, we just didn't get it done. These games are decided by a handful of plays."

The Spartans will have another opportunity this year when they travel to North Allegheny April 25, a non-section game that isn't even on their minds at this point.

"It is so far down the road it isn't a thought for us," Buzzard said. "It is a different year and different teams. Of course, we want to win and play programs like that very tough."

The Spartans began this season ranked No. 3 in AAAA by the Post-Gazette behind North Allegheny and Seneca Valley, but don't expect that to affect Buzzard's team.

"Not really," Buzzard said about increased expectations. "Those rankings can change week by week. It is all about performing on the field.

"We are excited that our program is being recognized. We still have to play consistently to get to where we need to be at the end of the year."

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