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Sewickley Academy baseball team sets sights high

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Kristina Serafini | Sewickley Herald
Sewickley Academy's Drew Johnson tosses a ball back after catching a pop-up during practice Friday, March 14, 2014, at the school.

Entering his second season leading the program, Sewickley Academy baseball coach Andrew Heck is raising the expectations.

The Panthers finished with an 11-6 mark and an appearance in the WPIAL Class A playoffs — the first since 2006 — a season ago. While Heck was pleased with the performance, he wants to see his team strive for more.

“We don't want to go year-in, year-out with the expecting to do the same things,” Heck said. “We want to build the program and continue to advance so the younger kids come in knowing our expectation and don't look for the older players to carry the team.”

Heck — who played for Duquesne and Oklahoma State as well as the Washington Wild Things — said losing six seniors from last season's squad will hurt.

But the team returns plenty of talent to soften the blow.

“We will need leaders to step up,” Heck said. “We lost guys like Jordan Milo and Evan Haines, who each led in a specific way. We need to see who will step into roles like that.”

The pitching staff will be solid with several returning players. Joe Nagel enters the season as the team's No. 1 pitcher after a strong sophomore season. Big things will be expected from junior left-hander Drew Johnson.

“Senior Sam Duerr will also be available,” Heck said. “We didn't throw him as much as we should have and wanted to because he did such a great job in the field for us. (Senior) Christopher Dick throws the ball hard and has had success working on his breaking ball.”

Sophomore Adam Snyder and John Nagel also will see time on the mound.

“We have a lot of guys who can throw the ball,” Heck said. “That will give us confidence. The coaching staff now needs to figure out who fits into each role.”

Senior Mike Manzinger will improve the team's fielding as he returns to center field. Fellow seniors Ben DiNardo, Connor Duddy and Tom Pregel will provide leadership to the Panthers' lineup.

The Panthers have the potential to be solid at the plate, but the coaching staff has yet to see what its team can do due to the inclement weather.

“That is always hard when you are inside,” Heck said. “Our biggest thing will be getting guys on base. We want to improve the quality of our hits.”

But Heck isn't lowering the goals for his team. In his opinion, 2014 could be a banner year.

“You can never reach your final goal unless you get through your intermediate goals,” Heck said. “A WPIAL championship is obtainable. But we need to win every pitch in every inning and win every game first.

“If we do that, we will make the playoffs and have the opportunity to compete.”

Sewickley Academy is scheduled to start its season April 2 as it hosts Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic at 4:30 p.m.

Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at nsmith@tribweb.com or via Twitter @NSmith_Trib.

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