Seneca Valley’s Easton Bazzoli (5) is the Raiders’ lone returning starter this season.
JACKSON TWP — A tough section just got tougher. The Seneca Valley boys basketball team is used to scratching and clawing for wins in Section 3-AAAA against the likes of Shaler, North Allegheny, Butler and Central Catholic, among others. Last season, seven of the Raiders’ section contests were decided by two points or less. While Central Catholic has been moved out of the section, two top-notch Class AAA teams have been added in New Castle and Hampton. Last season, the WPIAL Class AAA title game was between the Red Hurricanes and Talbots, with New Castle winning 57-44. “There’s going to be a team from our section to miss the playoffs that could contend for a title in any other Quad A section,” said Raiders coach Victor Giannotta. “That’s how tough this section is going to be. You can embrace it or make excuses and we’re not into making excuses.” The Raiders return just one starter from last season’s 15-11 team that qualified for the WPIAL and PIAA playoffs in 6-foot-5 senior guard Easton Bazzoli. As a junior, Bazzoli averaged nine points per game, but showed his potential by scoring 51 points in a three-game stretch. “We’re looking for Easton to do whatever it takes to help us win games,” said Giannotta. “Whether that means shooting it or passing it, we need him to focus on doing that. He’s our best player.” Senior forward R.J. McCauley will join Bazzoli as the team’s co-captains. “R.J. is the most dependable kid I’ve ever coached,” Giannotta said of McCauley, who will make the switch from reliable sixth man to a starter. Matt Darby, a 5-11 junior, will start at point guard and Zach Spangler, a 6-4 forward, should also crack the starting lineup. The rest of the playing time is up in the air. “Everybody on the varsity roster has a chance to get minutes,” said Giannotta. “The intensity level in practice is going to be key and the top players off the bench are going to be determined in our non-section games.” Giannotta will once again be assisted by Jim Pyle, Joe Venasco and Todd Schoeffel. The Raiders will open the 2012-13 season at Mars’ Scott Lang Memorial Tournament Friday and Saturday along with Shady Side Academy and Ford City.