Sewickley Academy baseball seeking 1st postseason trip since 2006
Members of the Sewickley Academy baseball team described last week as the biggest week of the regular season.
The Panthers faced Our Lady of the Sacred Heart and Vincentian Academy, the two squads they are battling for positioning atop Section 5-A.
By the end of the week, Sewickley Academy remained in the hunt for its first WPIAL playoff berth since 2006 and its first section title in more than 15 years.
After falling to the top-ranked Chargers, 6-1, on April 15, Sewickley Academy rebounded last Thursday to defeat Vincentian, 4-3.
The Panthers trailed, 3-0, entering the bottom of the sixth but mounted a comeback that was capped off by an Evan Haines two-run single to hand the Royals their first loss of the season.
“I told the guys the difference between a third seed and a second or even a first seed in the playoffs will happen this week,” coach Andrew Heck said. “Things will be a lot easier as a two seed than a three seed playing a top team from another section.”
The win improved Sewickley Academy to 4-1 in the section. It trailed OLSH (4-0) and leads Vincentian Academy (3-1) entering the week.
The team also was 6-2 overall, already passing last season's five-win total. If Sewickley Academy can win four more games, it will match the win total from the previous four seasons combined.
The winning has come with a new coaching staff. Heck, who played college ball at Duquesne and Oklahoma State and is currently a member of the Washington Wild Things, gained the players' respect from his accomplishments on the field.
“He played (NCAA) Division I and plays for the Wilds Things,” senior Jordan Milo said.
“He knows what he is talking about. There is a big difference between showing us something and actually being able to do it.”
The team said one of the biggest upgrades from seasons past has come at the plate.
The Panthers have scored nine or more runs in five games this year after only doing that twice all of last season.
“We did a lot of work during the offseason,” Haines said. “It is hard to compare to last year when we would have something like nine strikeouts a game. It is hard to compare this year's hitting to last year.”
The team is led by Mike Manzinger's 11 runs and .588 batting average.
Joe Nagel leads the team in doubles with five, and has added 10 runs and a .571 average. Haines has a .524 average and has recorded four doubles,
Sam Duerr leads the team with 15 runs scored.
The pitching has been also improved. Christopher Dick, an Avonworth transfer, has recorded 13 strikeouts while only allowing five hits for a 0.64 ERA. Sophomore Joe Nagel is 2-0 with 12 strikeouts. Freshman Adam Snyder and sophomore Drew Johnson have combined for 12 strikeouts and have ERAs under two.
“It is hard as a coach to not notice the youth and smile about the quality of the pitching staff down the road,” Heck said. “But at the same time with the youth, there is still room to learn and grow. I like the fire and competitive edge some guys have shown. I have pulled guys out of games and they'll complain.
“I want their best at the end of the year, not so much right now.”
But the biggest improvement may be the team's confidence. The team dropped its first game of the season to Avella, 6-5, and Heck was concerned it would derail the group. But the team responded with five straight wins by an average of seven runs.
“Last year, we would get down on ourselves,” senior Jim Nagel said. “There was fighting amongst ourselves. But this year we are all really supportive. The coaches are supportive. We are just sticking together and playing baseball.”
It is the new found mentality that is leading the team toward its first postseason trip since 2006. But qualifying for the WPIAL playoffs isn't all the Panthers want to do.
“We want to make the playoffs and we know we are good enough to win some games,” Manzinger said. “I don't want to get there and high-five and say ‘We're in the playoffs!' We want to go as far as we can.”