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Despite success, Sewickley Academy baseball still building coach says

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Sewickley Academy's Joe Nagel winds up for a pitch during the WPIAL Class A third-place game against Riverview on Thursday, May 29, 2014, at Ross Memorial Park in Washington, Pa.
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Wednesday, June 11, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
 

The resurgence of the Sewickley Academy baseball team continued this season.

After reaching the WPIAL playoffs for the first time since 2006 last season, the Panthers made history this year with their first appearance in the PIAA playoffs.

Despite the success, second-year coach Andrew Heck said the Panthers still have a long way to go.

“I don't think we have turned the corner yet,” Heck said. “It takes years to build programs. I don't think we are satisfied yet. There is still a sour taste of bad baseball for some of the players in the program. They still have the memory of losing close to a tough team and having to bury the season.”

Sewickley Academy (10-7, 5-3 in Section 5-A) fell to Elk County Catholic, 3-2, in the opening round of the PIAA tournament last week. The Crusaders took the lead in the bottom of the fifth after they scored on an error. The Panthers trailed 2-0 until they scored twice in the fifth to draw even.

It was the final game for six seniors on the roster – Ben DiNardo, Christopher Dick, Connor Duddy, Mike Manzinger, Sam Duerr and Tom Pregel.

“I wish I had nine guys like them on the field for every game,” Heck said. “Their drive, their desire, they willingness to work helped this team succeed. They were like another coach on the field. The reason we got were we did was they pushed everyone.”

Despite the loss of talent, the Panthers should expect to see more success next year.

The team will return its top pitchers in Drew Johnson and Joe Nagel. The pair of rising seniors pitched a majority of the innings for Sewickley Academy this season but Heck is still hoping to see some younger players challenge the duo next year.

“Those are our two main guys,” Heck said. “But I want young guys to step up and compete for spots. We had good pitching depth this season, but I would have liked to seen more young guys want the ball more. I am the kind of coach who wants players who want to be in big games.”

The team will also return infielders John Nagel, Derek Littlefield and Drew Zbihly

The Panthers will join Section 3-A next season and compete against Aliquippa, Quigley, Rochester, Union and Western Beaver. With a strong group of returning talent, Heck sees no reason why his squad can't take another step forward and compete for a title in its new home.

“There will be good teams like Rochester and Western Beaver,” Heck said. “But competing for the section title will be a goal. The players are starting to believe in themselves. For a long time, only the big time sports (at) Sewickley Academy like lacrosse, basketball and tennis had accountability and knew they wanted to be better.

“Now baseball is starting to get there. Our biggest challenge is to get these players to keep buying into the system and the belief we can be better.”

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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