Seneca Valley falls in bid for third straight WPIAL title
North Allegheny and Seneca Valley are so similar that their last six games had been decided by an average of two runs, all victories for the two-time defending WPIAL Class AAAA champion Raiders.
That was prior to the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game last week and before the Raiders found themselves on the wrong side of a 4-2 game.
“I said before the game that the team who scores four runs is going to win, and sure enough that was the number I had pegged,” said Seneca Valley head coach Eric Semega.
The Raiders barely missed being only the third team in WPIAL history to win three consecutive baseball championships.
“It's a good accomplishment for us to even have a chance to win three championships in a row, but obviously we wanted the victory because losing really isn't an option for us,” said Raiders third baseman Sam Fragale.
Uncharacteristic fielding mistakes by the Raiders enabled the Tigers offense.
“The first time we played them this season they made a mistake that gave us the go-ahead run, and in the second game they had a pitch up that helped us,” Semega said.
“Tonight, we made the mistakes, and they made the plays.”
The Raiders gave up an early 1-0 lead in the second inning after a string of mental errors, bad bounces and questionable calls.
Seneca Valley second baseman Gianpaul Gonzalez-Cortez made a diving stop with two outs and a man on first, but the throw from his knees went just wide of Zach Spangler's glove at first base.
Pitcher Connor Coward struck out the next batter, mound opponent Mitch Machi, but his curveball snuck between his catcher's legs, leaving the bases loaded.
Coward then walked home the Tigers' first run and balked home their second run.
“They said he shrugged his shoulders when he shook his head before the pitch, and if that's what the umpire saw then that's what he saw,” Semega said.
“But Connor has always given us an opportunity to win a lot of games, so he kept fighting.”
More Seneca Valley fielding mishaps proved costly in the fifth inning after North Allegheny's Brandon Bergstrom hit a leadoff double.
James Meeker laid down a would-be sacrifice bunt in the next at-bat, but Coward tried to catch Bergstrom in between second and third base instead.
Bergstrom retreated to second base safely, leaving two on and no one out.
Matt Waugamann tried a second would-be sacrifice bunt, but catcher Brad Gresock's throw to first base sailed into right field and allowed Bergstrom to score.
Justin Dottilo laid down North Allegheny's last bunt of the inning, which allowed Meeker to score from third and put the Tigers up 4-1.
“For whatever reason, we didn't make some plays that we normally do,” Semega said.
“Like I told them it's uncharacteristic, but it happens and probably will happen again sometime in your life.”
Seneca Valley, down 4-2, nearly came back in the seventh inning, but with two on and one out the Tigers made a pitching change.
North Allegheny's Jason Monper relieved Machi, who allowed four hits and two runs in 6 and a third innings.
Monper struck out the last two Seneca Valley batters on check swings, the only two times the Raiders struck out during the title game.
Both teams will compete in the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs.
“It's a matter of them thinking this is the end of the season or focusing tomorrow as unit to go forward and go after something that's eluded them the last two years,” Semega said.
Seneca Valley has not advanced past the PIAA semi-final round since winning the state championship in 2007.
“Obviously this loss hurts, but we need to get our heads cleared tonight to be ready for practice tomorrow to prepare ourselves for states,” Fragale said.
Shawn Annarelli is a freelancer writer with Trib Total Media.