Trib Cup: Sewickley Academy baseball preps for postseason
Sewickley Academy baseball coach Andrew Petruska thinks his team may have saved its best for last.
After a 4-4 record through the better part of April, the Panthers responded in the season's final four games in May, posting a 3-1 record and putting together all phases of the game to finish securely in second place in Section 3-A.
And with the postseason set to begin next week, the first-year coach is optimistic his team is playing its best ball at the right time.
“These past couple weeks have been a great focus for our whole team as coaches and players and just bringing it all together with hitting, defense, pitching,” he said.
“Early on we would hit the ball well in one game, but not field well and then field well another game and not hit well,” added senior pitcher Joey Straka. “We normally were getting pretty good pitching outings, and now finally we're able to put together some really good, complete games.”
Finishing the regular season 10-5 overall and 9-3 in section play, Sewickley Academy is highlighted as this week's Tribune-Review High School Sports Award feature team, and has helped the Panthers to a first place ranking in the Class A standings.
Sewickley Academy's full team effort was on display in a 4-3 win over section-leading Rochester last week, where the Panthers' offense, defense and pitching were at their best.
“We knew coming in they were the top team in the section,” Petruska said. “Our seniors really wanted to push forward for it. We knew that they were going to bring their top pitcher at us. … Joey pitched a great game, we made the plays when we needed to on defense and we scored runs when we needed to.”
The Panthers have been paced by the senior leadership of players like Straka, the team's No. 1 pitcher and hitter with a .522 average, as well as catcher Derrick Littlefield, who leads the team with two home runs, seven doubles and 18 RBIs.
Perhaps no one knows how valuable Littlefield is behind the plate more than Straka, as the two have formed a battery for the better part of the last decade through various teams.
“I've been pitching to him and having him catch for me for probably five or 10 years now, so I've known him forever and it's always great to have him catching for me because we're always very in sync and it's great to have a good arm like him behind the plate,” Straka said.
“He's been a great leader for our team. … He brings a spark every day, having fun, getting the guys pumped up every day and he's someone special to have on the team and trying to motivate everyone,” added Petruska of Littlefield.
The team's lineup is rounded out by senior and leadoff hitter John DelVecchio (2B/SS), along with senior first baseman Declan Hickton, senior center fielder Tommy Lasorda and freshman Dimitri Gary (C/3B), who is hitting .350. Senior Ryan Brown (LF/DH) has also made an impact at the plate this year, including a pivotal base hit in the win over Rochester.
For Petruska, the lineup's success starts at the top with DelVecchio.
“John DelVecchio as a leadoff has been great for us, just taking pitches, being the leadoff that we need, drawing a lot of walks, seeing a lot of pitches,” he said. “He's a true No. 1 in that lineup.”
On the mound, the pitching staff has embraced Petruska's team motto of “Throw Strikes and Work Fast,” as Straka, DelVecchio and sophomore Cole Karlick have done just that all season. In fact, DelVecchio didn't even allow his first run of the year until the season finale, allowing just one run over 15 2⁄3 innings.
So, as the Panthers head into the postseason, Petruska isn't worried about changing much. He just wants his team to keep playing the complete team baseball it's shown in May, and see how far it can advance.
“I think it's just definitely doing everything the same that we've done these past couple games with great pitching, good defensive work behind whoever is pitching,” he said.
Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.