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Season ends for Cinderella Seneca Valley in PIAA semifinals

| Monday, June 9, 2014, 9:06 p.m.

SCOTLAND, Pa. — Three years apart, on the same field, against the same school, Seneca Valley's baseball season ended one round short of the state championship.

Yet, the emotion was different this time.

“It hurts because you were so close and you had an opportunity,” Seneca Valley coach Eric Semega said after Monday's semifinal loss to Conestoga, 3-2, in the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs at Green Township Park. “Sometimes you just wish you'd get blown out and have it be that way.”

But he also admitted he didn't really mean that.

“You always want a chance,” Semega said.

Conestoga won 11-1 in 2011, a lopsided six-inning outcome that was decided early. Seneca Valley had chances in this rematch, which included an out at the plate. Trailing 3-2 in the fifth inning, John Brittner was tagged out trying to steal home on a wild pitch with two outs.

“It was a bang-bang play,” Semega said, “that didn't go in our favor.”

The loss ended an unexpected playoff run for WPIAL champion Seneca Valley (12-12), which barely reached the postseason with a 6-11 record. Seeded last in the 16-team WPIAL playoffs, the Raiders won six straight to reach Monday's state semifinal.

“To look back at what they did, and how they did it and what they achieved, they have a lot to be proud of,” Semega said.

Seneca Valley had five hits and four walks against undefeated Conestoga left-hander Jake Buko (7-0), but the Raiders stranded seven runners. The last was a leadoff walk by Matt Hajduk in the bottom of seventh. Pinch runner Dan Barna reached only second base.

“We put the ball in play often today,” said Semega, whose batters struck out just once. “We just didn't get the big hit when we needed it.”

Seneca Valley was the last surviving WPIAL team in any classification of the PIAA playoffs. For the first time since 1992, the WPIAL won't have a team in the state baseball finals.

Conestoga (22-7), the third-place team from District 1, will face District 12 champion La Salle College in the Class AAAA final on Friday. Both schools are from the Philadelphia area.

Seneca Valley made Buko work harder than he had all season, Conestoga coach John Vogan said. The left-handed senior entered with an ERA below 1.00.

“Someone told me (Seneca Valley's) record,” Vogan said. “That's not a (12-12) ball club.”

Trailing 2-0, Seneca Valley scored twice in the third when John Davis, John Harper and Brittner singled. But with the bases loaded, Connor Coward smacked a well-hit liner that Buko fielded for the final out.

“That's a huge momentum changer in the game right there,” Semega said, “but it didn't go through.”

Buko also made the tag at home on Brittner in the fifth, when catcher Andrew Turner chased down the wild pitch. On pitches in the dirt, Semega allows his runners to decide whether to advance or not.

“I don't know if he hesitated or just went,” said Semega, who coaches third. “I think it was far enough away. It was a gamble situation.”

A similar gamble had worked in the third inning, when Harper scored on a wild pitch to force a 2-2 tie.

Seneca Valley senior Alex Hajduk allowed five hits and two walks in six innings. Coward pitched a scoreless seventh.

Hajduk allowed two runs in the first inning and a tie-breaking run in the fourth, when Conestoga's Steve Born hit a leadoff double and scored.

In the first, Conestoga's Austin Shirley hit a leadoff single, Ryne Ogren drew a walk and Andrew Born drove them in with a one-out single.

Seneca Valley's last chance to tie came in the seventh when Hajduk drew a leadoff walk. But Buko's wildness hurt the Raiders, who needed two at-bats to lay down a sacrifice bunt. With two outs and a runner on second, No. 3 hitter Matt Rafferty grounded out.

“You want to get a guy in scoring position,” Semega said of the bunt strategy, “... It didn't work out for us today.”

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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