Pine-Richland falls to Seneca Valley in baseball action
The storylines entering the WPIAL Class AAAA baseball semifinals were as exciting as the matchup itself.
For the past four years, Pine-Richland or Seneca Valley advanced to the WPIAL finals, with the Rams or the Raiders winning the past three Class AAAA crowns. Both teams won their respective sections this season, and the Rams defeated the Raiders earlier this season, handing Seneca Valley one of its two losses.
Since 1923, only one team in any classification — Pine-Richland in Class AAA — has captured three straight titles (Allegheny won six in a row from 1917 to 1922). And, prior to this season, nobody in Class AAAA has won three straight titles. But thanks to a 6-0 win over the Rams, the Raiders earned the opportunity to try.
“I am not going to lie … it was obviously a goal at the beginning of the season,” Seneca Valley coach Eric Semega said. “But, I told the guys, you can't hope for it or wish for it … you have to work for it, one game at a time. We have given ourselves the opportunity; now we want to capitalize on it.”
To earn the win, Seneca Valley had to contain a Pine-Richland offense that averaged 18 baserunners a game. It was not easy, according to winning pitcher Connor Coward, but he had a line on what needed to be done.
“I have faced and played with a lot of their hitters,” Coward said. “One through six they are really tough. They are not one of the best hitting teams in the WPIAL for nothing.”
Coward limited the Rams' usually consistent bats to four hits and struck out seven, but he credited his offense for giving him a lead to work with and his fielders for making good plays behind him.
On the flip side, Pine-Richland coach Kurt Wolfe said a mistake here, a drop there seemed minor at the time but compiled to create a deficit.
“It's tough, because I really felt that if we jumped on them the way they jumped on us we would have an opportunity,” Wolfe said. “In my opinion, the first four runs were unearned … we misplayed a ball here, drop a ball on a throw home where the runner was dead out and didn't turn a double play that a single later scored a run.
“But as they got runs, they got confidence and Connor got in a groove.”
Seneca Valley's Carson Kessler knocked in what turned out to be the winning run in the first inning with an RBI single. The Raiders struck again with a three-run inning in the fourth, where Coward's single was followed up by back-to-back RBI doubles by Alex Hajduk and Jonathan Dorogy. Catcher Brad Gresock also got in on the action with an RBI single.
“When you hit and get runs behind you, as a pitcher you get confidence,” Semega said. “There is a little room for error. We have not had much timely hitting, and we got a few runs from some of their miscues.
“Connor held another really good team without a run.”
Kessler really put the stamp on things in the top of the fifth, where his solo home run seemed to thwart any hope for the Rams.
“It was a 2-0 (fastball), and you don't see many of those,” Kessler said. “This is our third semifinal game in a row, and we have confidence, which is a difficult stain to wipe away.”
Wolfe said the Raiders did a nice job of putting the game away.
“Connor pitched a great game; my hat is off to him,” Wolfe said. “We had very few opportunities and did not cash in on them. Seneca Valley was just better today.”
Wolfe credited his squad with winning the first Class AAAA section title in school history and winning 17 games, advancing to the final four and getting a chance to play for the PIAA bracket.
“Nobody had us picked to do much, so it is gratifying,” Wolfe said. “We came in a little under the radar.”
The Rams' season did not end that evening. The team played Hempfield yesterday, Wednesday, for the opportunity to advance to the PIAA bracket. Results of that game were unavailable as of press time.
The Raiders, on the other hand, had a shot at history. Seneca Valley played North Allegheny for the WPIAL championship yesterday, Wednesday. Results of that game were unavailable as of press time.
Jerry Clark is a sports editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-779-6979 or firstname.lastname@example.org.