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Sewickley Academy baseball set to open new season

| Monday, March 21, 2016, 12:48 a.m.

Any opportunity that coach Andrew Heck gets, he reminds his Sewickley Academy baseball team of how important the mental approach to the game is.

Recently, Heck's lessons to his team have become even more prevalent as the Panthers head into this season primed to defend their title as Section 3-A co-champs after graduating their top two pitchers. To drive his point home to his players, the third-year coach draws inspiration from just about anywhere.

“Take March Madness going on right now, for example. I used that example last week. There are teams that don't look like great basketball teams, or they don't look like they would even be able to hang with the other team that seems so much more talented than them. But why are they able to hang in there and beat them?” Heck said.

“It's because they truly believe and play together as one. That's something that we're going to continue to push all year long, and that's something that this team has to grasp and go with.”

In particular, Sewickley Academy's coach says he wants his pitching staff to form a more cohesive unit, one that can combine two or three hurlers to put together a top-shelf performance.

The three most experienced members of the team's pitching staff heading into the season are seniors Adam Snyder and John Nagel and junior Joey Straka. Though, with Nagel moonlighting as the team's best shortstop, an extra measure of the burden may be placed on Snyder and Straka.

“I think we have to find ourselves with the pitching; that may be an area that we lack in a little bit,” Heck said.

“I really hope that we're able to swing the bat to our potential this year. I didn't think they always swung the bat to their potential last year. Those guys that can swing the bat pretty well are a year older now, so we might have to win some games with some crooked numbers.”

One player who will be counted upon to help put those crooked numbers up on the scoreboard for the Panthers is Derek Littlefield. Last season, the junior catcher helped lead his team's offense to an average of 5.8 runs.

“He is our most talented player. He brings a lot to the table for us, and he's been getting a lot of looks from different colleges as a Division I prospect,” Heck said.

“He knows this is a big year for him, and I expect a lot of things from him with his hitting, defense, and maybe even on the mound.”

Nagel also figures to play a big role in the Panthers' batting order whether he is pitching or playing shortstop.

Seniors Martin Tancer and Drew Zbihley also return to provide Sewickley Academy's lineup with an added ability to get on base, as well as speed on the base paths.

Sewickley Academy will travel to Florida this week to open the season.

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.

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