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After 13 straight wins, Seneca Valley again a WPIAL favorite

| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 10:54 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Seneca Valley's Connor Coward pitches during a game against North Allegheny Thursday, April 25, 2013, in Jackson Twp.
Ronald Vezzani Jr. | For the Daily News
Steel Valley's Brandon Donovan takes the mound against East Allegheny on Wednesday, April 3, 2013, at West Field.

The season started with a stumble for Seneca Valley, but 13 straight wins will do wonders for a team's confidence.

“Everything is working now,” senior Sam Fragale said. “Our pitching is really doing the job, and our hitting continues to be good. We had a rough start, but ever since then, we've been going up.”

Count Fragale's improved health among the team's reasons for optimism.

The Virginia Tech recruit made his season debut last week after missing 10 games with an injured ankle. The No. 3 hitter in Seneca Valley's lineup was hurt stealing a base in the team's first scrimmage.

“It's a huge difference,” coach Eric Semega said. “He is absolutely our leader, and he's a big stick we haven't had. Having him back is a huge boost.”

Seneca Valley is 13-2 and ranked third in Class AAAA. The two-time defending WPIAL champion hasn't lost since April 4 and could become the first Quad-A team to win three consecutive titles since the classification was created in 2005.

The Raiders (9-0 in Section 1-AAAA) clinched the section title with Tuesday's victory over New Castle, giving them a three-game lead over North Allegheny (6-3) and Fox Chapel (5-4) with one left.

Now they want the No. 1 playoff seed, a position Central Catholic (13-2), Pine-Richland (13-2) and Bethel Park (14-2) also are chasing. Barring unbreakable ties, 15 teams would make the playoffs, and the top seed would receive a first-round bye.

“That one bye this year is going to be huge, if that occurs,” Semega said. “I'm sure a lot of the teams that are at the top of their division are going to try to win out to get that ... so you don't have to run into a buzzsaw of a pitcher right out of the gate.”

Seneca Valley is the only Class AAAA team with an undefeated section record. The Raiders will meet Central Catholic (13-3, 8-1) May 9 in a nonsection season finale.

Yet things weren't so rosy four weeks ago after losses to Pine-Richland, 14-11, and Moon, 7-0. Seneca Valley's pitchers walked 25 batters combined in those two losses. Since changing the rotation, the Raiders' pitching has been solid led by Connor Coward (4-0) and Zach Spangler (3-0).

Coward, a junior with a solid curveball, has overcome back issues that limited him as a sophomore. Spangler, a senior Kent State recruit, added a cutter to his pitch options.

“Our pitching has made a great turnaround,” Semega said. “We're starting to hit, make plays and actually throw strikes ­— everything I expected coming into this year.”

The Raiders field a veteran lineup with six seniors. That includes Fragale, center fielder Jonathan Dorogy (The Citadel for football) and catcher Brad Gresock (St. Bonaventure), who are three-year starters. Third baseman Carson Kessler (Slippery Rock) and right fielder Jason Martin (IUP) are two-year starters.

Junior Alex Hajduk plays shortstop and junior Gianpaul Gonzalez, who moved from Puerto Rico, plays second or catcher.

Typically a middle infielder, Fragale will be the designated hitter until his high-ankle sprain heals. He has hit better than .500 since rejoining the lineup. Kessler leads with a .474 average. Spangler, a first baseman when not pitching, averages .425.

“We know we have the talent to dominate,” Fragale said. “It's just a matter of having that confidence every game.”

During their winning streak, they've outscored section opponents, 75-30, and have nonsection wins over Class AAA No. 1 Hopewell and third-ranked Hampton.

“We're playing good and we're gaining some momentum,” Semega said. “When you win you get more confidence. And there's a lot to be said for confidence.”

Chris Harlan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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