Over the past 53 weeks, the Seneca Valley High School baseball program has seemingly morphed from merely a consistently good program to one of the elites of the WPIAL.
Consecutive Class AAAA championships can do that for a school. The Raiders' titles won May 31, 2011, and May 30 last week tripled the number of WPIAL baseball championships the school can boast since the inception of the program in 1985.
That can raise the profile of a program and create heightened expectations in the future.
Coach Eric Semega disagrees on a technicality; he believes the Raiders had already achieved elite status. An alumnus who was on the first Seneca Valley varsity baseball team more than a quarter century ago, there might not be a person on the planet who knows what Seneca Valley baseball represents more than Semega.
As a player, assistant coach and head coach, Semega has been an official part of the program for 24 of its 27 seasons. He says that winning two championships in a row won't change Seneca Valley baseball's future fortunes or outlook.
"Obviously, the bar is set high," Semega said. "[Winning consecutive titles] is very difficult to do in any program, but to be honest with you, I think since the program started in 1985, only having two coaches ever be part of the program, Dave Florie and myself, it's been set up strong a long time ago.
"There's a lot of pride out of being part of this program, and I think it starts well in advance of just when you get to the varsity team. When they're down in camps and coming up through the junior high program, a lot of kids want to be a part of it and set their own mark on the program and the tradition that has been built over the years."
Semega has been on the Raiders' staff since 1992 and just completed his 12th season as head coach.
The most recent edition of the team's season ended with a 9-4 loss to Altoona in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA tournament Monday at Pullman Park in Butler.
The Raiders fell into an early 5-0 hole, a deficit that proved too much to overcome against Altoona's Christian Helsel, a University of Mississippi recruit.
"Walks ... put us behind the eight ball early," Semega said. "In terms of our team, I thought we played very well. That was a very good pitcher we were facing, and I thought we battled well. It was just too much to overcome."
Seneca Valley started Zach Detillio on the mound and relieved him with Zach Spangler and, ultimately, Jason Martin. Matt Smith, the pitcher who has been the Raiders' ace throughout playoff runs the past two seasons, did not pitch.
"He wasn't ready to go on Monday," Semega said. "We were confident in terms of the pitching of [Detillio and Spangler]. Both of them perform for us. That wasn't an issue at all."
The defeat meant the end of the high school careers for six Seneca Valley seniors -- pitchers Smith and Detillio, infielders Austin Bream, Zach Creedon and Eddie Kremmel and catcher Dennis Krevokuch.
Smith and Detillio were the Raiders' top two pitchers during the past two championship seasons. Bream, a two-year starter in the outfield, will play at Liberty University in Virginia. That's the same Division I school older brother, Tyler, and father, Sid, played at. Sid is a former Pirates first baseman.
Smith will pitch at Georgetown of the Big East, and Detillio at IUP.
Creedon came up clutch in the postseason at the plate and in the field at shortstop.
"The hard work and the effort these seniors put in the last two years of dedicating themselves to making us a better team is well-appreciated," Semega said. "When you have seniors who made a big impact, winning two championships, you are going to miss a pretty good core of what went on these last two years."
Still, Seneca Valley expects to continue to contend for a WPIAL championship next season. Six of the team's top seven hitters return, and with them so does the core of the defense.
Second baseman Sam Fragale, outfielder Jon Dorogy, catcher Brad Gresock, Martin and Spangler form a nucleus that will lead the Raiders next season.
"We're going to have a great opportunity to fill in the holes with the younger players who are moving up into the program and move on in that way," Semega said.
"I'm very confident in our junior pitchers. Even though they didn't get a lot of innings, when they did get the opportunity, they proved to us that with one more year of maturity and getting better that they'll be staples for us on the mound.
"Are we going to do what we did this year? Who knows. That's hard to do. But I will tell you that we're very confident that when we come in to play our first exhibition game in March, we're going to be able to compete to make another run into the playoffs."
Thursday, June 7, 2012
First Published June 7, 2012 12:00 AM