Seneca Valley's Connor Coward delivers a pitch against Pine-Richland during the Raiders' 5-4 victory in the WPIAL Class AAAA baseball semifinals.
TYE CYPHER/SPECIAL TO THE EAGLE
Forget about the Seneca Valley baseball team's 6-11 regular-season record. As far as the Raiders are concerned, they are 3-0 this season. That is the squad's record in the playoffs, with the most recent win sending SV to its fourth straight WPIAL Class AAAA title game appearance. The 16th-seeded Raiders used a three-run third frame to gain the upper hand on Pine-Richland, then survived a Rams rally in the final inning in a 5-4 semifinal victory at Kelly Automotive Park Thursday evening. Seneca will face Baldwin, a 10-2 victor over Moon, in the championship game Wednesday at Consol Energy Field at a time to be determined. “For our first 17 games, we were like a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest,” said SV coach Eric Semega. “After the way our season has gone, this one feels good.” Trailing the Raiders 5-2 entering the top of the seventh inning, the Rams (17-6) did not go quietly. Leadoff hitter Nick Roth was hit by a pitch and reached second base on an errant pick-off throw by Connor Coward. Joey Professori then singled, moving Roth to third base. The latter scored on a wild pitch to cut SV's lead to 5-3. J.T. Riley's fly ball moved courtesy runner Chris Grguras to third and he raced home on Matt Kamenicky's sacrifice fly. Sam Gessner then smacked a groundball that appeared to be headed for right field, but SV first baseman Dan Lopresti made a diving stop to his right, got to his feet and flipped the ball to Coward in time for the final out. “That was a huge play by (Lopresti),” Semega said. “If he doesn't make it, this could have been a different game.” “We stayed in it the whole time,” said Rams' coach Kurt Wolfe. “We had an opportunity there at the end, but unfortunately, we came up short. “We felt that if we held them to three or less runs, we'd have a good chance of winning, but it didn't work out for us.” It was the second straight playoff win for Coward, who missed the entire regular season with a back injury. He threw 90 pitches Thursday, 59 of them for strikes. “My stamina is a little lower than it was this time last year,” said Coward, a senior and Virginia Tech recruit. “I was winded, but found a way to battle through it. Top to bottom, Pine-Richland's lineup is so tough. There aren't many easy outs.” The Raiders staked Coward to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the third. SV tallied four hits in the frame off of Rams' ace Jamie Switalski. Matt Rafferty's single brought home Alex Hajduk and Vince Augustine followed with a double that plated Johnny Brittner and Rafferty. “We sat on his (Switalski's) fastball and adjusted well to his curveball,” said Augustine. “It worked out well for us tonight.” The Rams answered with Roth's two-run, inside-the-park home run in the next half inning, but SV's bats came right back in the bottom of the fourth. Brittner's single scored Corbin Kessler and courtesy runner Dan Barna to push their team's edge back to three runs. Coward, who struck out two and walked one in the game, stranded one baserunner in the fifth before setting the Rams down in order in the sixth. Switalski tallied seven strikeouts and one walk in his six innings of work. The Raiders' postseason run did not just salvage what was at one point a lost season, it has put the program in position to win a third district title in four years. “It means everything,” said Coward of returning from injury and playing for a WPIAL title. “It's not about me, it's about helping the team.” Pine-Richland 000 200 2 — 4 5 2 Seneca Valley 003 200 x — 5 8 2 W: Connor Coward 7IP (2K, 1BB). L: Jamie Switalski 6IP (7K, 1BB). Pine-Richland (17-6): Bennett Zynn 1B, Nick Roth HR 2R 2RBI, Joey Professori 1B, J.T. Riley 1B, Matt Kamenicky 2B RBI, Billy Lenhart R, Chris Grguras R Seneca Valley (9-11): John Harper 1B, Johnny Brittner 2-1B R 2RBI, Matt Rafferty 1B R RBI, Vince Augustine 2B 2RBI, Matt Wagner 3B, Corbin Kessler R, John Davis 1B, Alex Hajduk 1B R, Dan Barna R Wednesday: Seneca Valley vs. Baldwin, WPIAL Class AAAA title game at Consol Energy Field, time TBD