Saturday July 10, 2021 | 8:09 p.m.
It’s a rare feat when an athlete at a major high school excels in three sports.
This happens more often in smaller schools, but usually not in larger classifications.
Christian Zilli of Hempfield is an exception.
As a senior, Zilli was the quarterback of the football team, one of the best players on the basketball team, and helped lead the baseball team to the WPIAL Class 6A championship game for the first time in the history of the school.
And by the way, he’s an exceptional student. He was a finalist for an Award of Excellence at the 65th Annual Westmoreland County Fellows / Athletes Awards Banquet hosted by Judge John J. Driscoll at Ferrante’s Lakeview Lounge. He was also the king of the comeback.
He maintained a GPA of 98.5 and his class ranking was 28 of 443. He will stay close to home and play baseball for Marc Marizzaldi at Seton Hill.
Because of what he achieved in his senior season, Zilli was named Tribune-Review Westmoreland Male Athlete of the Year. He beat Devin Whitlock junior Belle Vernon, Caden Smith junior regional Franklin, Ryan Bushey senior Derry, Mt. Pleasant senior Jonas King and Greensburg Central Catholic senior Dylan Sebek, who competed in five sports, for the prize.
Zilli returned from his senior season to become the starting quarterback for the football team. He said he wanted to play a sport he loved with his friends.
He quickly understood the offense. He completed 50 of 98 passes for 687 yards and eight touchdowns. He also ran for 171 yards and a score.
In the basketball team, Zilli was a Trib Westmoreland Terrific 10 first team player. He was a solid all-around player and team manager who often fielded runs; he had averages of 11.9 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.4 assists. He had many winning shots.
Hempfield basketball coach Bill Swan remembers a tied shot against Mars and a winner against Bethel Park as two examples.
âChristian was a great leader and organizer of the basketball team,â Swan said. âWe don’t have enough Christian Zillis in Westmoreland County. Playing three sports in high school is awesome.
âEveryone loved him at Hempfield – teachers, coaches, teammates and students. It says a lot to be elected king of reunions. She’s a special person.
On the baseball field, he took it to another level.
The senior all-rounder started the season as the Spartans third baseman but went shortstop due to injury.
He was also the Spartans’ top relief pitcher.
He reached .312 with 18 RBIs and 26 RBIs.
âHe might not have been the most talented player to come on the program, but he could have been the most complete player,â said Hempfield baseball coach Tim Buzzard. âChristian was a leader and he wasn’t afraid to reach out and help young players.
âHe stepped in and did everything we asked. He was a clutch hitter and a chopper on the mound. He has been our best player this season.
Zilli goes to a college that meets her academic and athletic needs.
âSeton Hill has a great baseball program,â Zilli said. âThey’ve made it to the World Series (NCAA Division II), and they have players drafted and playing professional baseball. I would love to do that too, but they also have academic programs (physiotherapy) to prepare me if things don’t go the way I want.
Zilli said her most memorable moment of the year was playing in the WPIAL baseball championship game.
âWhat a great experience,â Zilli said. âThe atmosphere, the crowd and the playing is something I will never forget.
âWe’ve had to go through a lot this season as a baseball team because of injuries. We have shown our tenacity. As for me, I tried to lead by example. I tried to help young players whenever I could.
Buzzard added, âHe was like a coach on the pitch. He was a hard worker and a leader.