Hempfield East wins pair of games to reach Region 7 championship
Their players were long gone and only a few fans lingered when Bushy Run coach Scott Peyman met Hempfield East coach Harry Shamberger in front of the home dugout at Hempfield High School.
They shared a laugh and chatted. Maybe they were talking about what a rivalry it had become this year between their respective Westmoreland County American Legion baseball teams.
A rivalry in which Hempfield East has won all five meetings after defeating Bushy Run, 2-1, on Monday night, capping a wild day at the Region 7 American Legion tournament.
First, a schedule change, made late Sunday night, increased Monday’s schedule by one to three games and shortened Tuesday’s slate from two to just a noon tournament championship game, which will feature the host team, Hempfield East, against Bedford, of the Cambria-Somerset League.
Next came a controversial decision that saw region director Doug Walker defer to state officials on an earlier ruling against Punxsutawney and its alleged use of an ineligible player after the Jefferson County League team had walloped Bushy Run, 16-4.
Originally, Punxsutawney winning pitcher Aaron Park was cleared to play. But after the game, despite protests by the Punxsutawney coaching staff, the American Legion board reversed a decision that the team broke a rule regarding Park’s eligibility because he had played in another tournament.
Park was disqualified after the game for reportedly playing in a tournament in North Carolina over the weekend in lieu of the Region 7 Tournament.
“It’s out of my hands when it goes above me,” Walker said. “I just present the facts that are given to me. The rules are there to be enforced and when a team protests, like Bushy Run did, it has to go to the state first and then possibly to the national office.”
The result eliminated Punxsutawney from the tournament and slotted Bushy Run opposite Hempfield East in the final elimination game. Hempfield East stayed alive by handing Bedford its first loss, 9-1, in the second game of the day.
Which brings us to the nightcap, another scintillating affair between two teams who had played three one-run games in their first four meetings, during the regular season and in the District 31 playoffs, before adding yet another on Monday night.
Isaiah DiAndreth, a Seton Hill commit, who had not pitched competitively since his youth league days, twirled 5 2/3 innings of relief and gave up just one unearned run for Hempfield East.
DiAndreth, who gave up six hits, walked three and struck out five, normally plays second base.
He relieved starter Shane Stuchell, who had reached the maximum 105-pitch count in the second inning after tossing six innings and earning the victory in the previous game against Bedford.
Pitch counts for Pennsylvania American Legion pitchers are regulated on a sliding scale involving the number of rest days in between appearances.
Stuchell switched places with DiAndreth at second base after getting one out in the second inning on his 33th pitch of the game. He threw 72 against Bedford earlier in the day.
“I knew we were running out of pitching, and I just told the coaches that I’d get in there and throw strikes if needed,” DiAndreth said. “I felt comfortable doing it. I just tried to hit the corners and hit certain spots.”
Hempfield East broke a 1-1 tie with a run in the fifth and it stood until the end, though not without some drama.
Bushy Run put runners on first and second with none out in the bottom of the seventh, when DiAndreth fielded Mario Disso’s sacrifice bunt attempt and fired a stike to third baseman Hunter Eperesi to force Tanner Lewis.
“If we don’t get that out at third, who knows?” Shamberger said. “What a heads-up play.”
DiAndreth then retired Luke Fabac on a pop up to first baseman Reid Amundson before striking out Tyler Chrise.
“If we don’t get picked off early,” Peyman said, referring to DiAndreth’s pickoff of Chrise at third in the fourth, “and if Disso gets that bunt down in a better place instead of right out in front to the pitcher, we might have had a better chance. Those plays hurt us, and (DiAndreth) came in and did the job.”
Hempfield East took a 1-0 lead against hard-luck loser Disso, who pitched a complete-game six-hitter, scoring a run in the third, when Stuchell doubled and eventually scored on single by Dajauhn Hertzog.
Bushy Run tied it in the fourth. Fabac reached on a fielding error by Matt Wicker and, despite DiAndreth’s pickoff of Chrise, scored on Hunter DeStefano’s hit, the second of three in succession in the inning against DiAndreth.
“It was fun at first,” DiAndreth said, “As the game went on, it became more intense. The last inning was intense, but I just tried to keep doing what I was doing.”
Earlier, Hempfield East defeated Bedford, despite getting just four hits. Bedford pitchers walked eight and hit two.
Wicker’s three RBIs led Hempfield East. Stuchell scatted seven hits over six innings, striking out four and walking two.