The East Hempfield American Legion team was 3-1 at one point this season, which seems like a long time ago. East Hempfield has won 22 consecutive games including three sweeps in best-of-three series to advance to the Region 7 tournament that begins Saturday at Latrobe.
East Hempfield advanced to the Region 7 tournament rather emphatically with a 14-3 win Monday against Unity in Game 2 of their series.
"This is a pretty well-rounded team," East Hempfield manager Ron Frye said after the 11-run win. "We have pitched pretty well and our defense is pretty solid. We have a good group of hitters who can do some different things."
Last season in Frye's first with the team, East Hempfield was eliminated in the second round of the District 31 tournament by eventual champion Bushy Run.
There would be no denying East Hempfield this time around and now the group heads to the Region 7 tournament as one of the favorites in a field of teams from all over the state.
There are two legion teams in Hempfield, East and West. Both are primarily made up of Hempfield Area High School students. The East Hempfield team has two players from Greensburg Central Catholic and one from Penn-Trafford. The two programs have developed a natural rivalry and they met in the District 31 semifinals. East Hempfield swept the best-of-three series winning both contests 7-4.
East Hempfield has been led by its two top pitchers, Brandt Frye, 19, and Corey Marshall, 17. Brandt Frye is a 2011 Hempfield graduate and the son of manager Ron Frye. Marshall is a senior at Greensburg Central Catholic. Brandt (8-0) and Marshall (7-1) have combined to win 15 of the team's 25 wins.
"They have different styles," Ron Frye said. "Brandt pitches backward, he uses his curveball and changeup to set up the fastball. Corey uses his fastball to set up his other pitches."
Offensively East Hempfield has one of the most dangerous lineups in the league top to bottom.
Center fielder Luke Fox, a senior at Hempfield, leads off the lineup. Batting second is Frye. Behind Fox and Frye in the lineup are two power hitters, Brad Appleby and Cody Dalicandro. Appleby is a recent Greensburg Central Catholic graduate while Dalicandro just graduated from Hempfield. Dalicandro starts in right field.
The East Hempfield team has three catchers on the roster who started for their respective varsity team. Appleby was the starting catcher for the Centurions while Anthony Bozzuto and Zachary Susalla started as catchers at Hempfield and Penn-Trafford, respectively. Appleby made the move to third base and Bozzuto and Susalla split innings behind the plate.
"They are all good enough athletes to play other positions," the elder Frye said.
Batters two through six in the lineup are all hitting above .380 and Appleby, Dalicandro, shortstop Matt Moyer and Bozzuto have all knocked in more than 25 runs this year. Moyer hits fifth in the lineup.
There is no 10-run mercy rule in American Legion baseball and with a talented team such as East Hempfield, some games look lopsided but Frye's team was forced to battle all season and earned that 25-1 record.
"We played some close games," Frye said. "It seems like we played a lot of games that were close through a good majority of the game and then we knocked the pitcher out and scored some more runs and put the game away. But they were not all blowouts."