SCOTLAND, Pa. -- If one accepts that baseball, more than any other, is a game of numbers, there's no disputing the following fact: Seneca Valley is a .500 baseball team at 12-12.
But in every other aspect, Seneca Valley is anything but average.
Seneca Valley, the team which filled the final line for the WPIAL playoffs after its foundering 6-11 regular season before embarking a six-win playoff streak, won't be the final team out of the PIAA Class AAAA playoffs.
Seneca Valley's unlikely, spectacular playoff run ended Monday in a 3-2 loss to Conestoga, sending the District 1 third-place team to the PIAA Class AAAA championship at 1 p.m. Friday at Penn State. Conestoga (22-7) will meet District 12 champion La Salle College at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park for the title.
That Seneca Valley will not be in University Park is certainly painful for the Raiders, who had opportunities to knock off Conestoga, a team with an astounding 17 Division I recruits on its 23-man roster.
But as Seneca Valley coach Eric Semega noted minutes after the game at Greene Township Park, that pain is temporary, but the pride the Raiders developed in their playoff run is permanent.
"Right now, it hurts," Semega said. "But I told the kids this pain will go away quickly, maybe in a day or two or three. And once that fades, they'll realize they have a lot to be proud of."
The Raiders never led in this game, yielding two first-inning runs to Conestoga, which smacked starting pitcher Alex Hajduk for a couple of sharp hits. But the Pioneers only had three more hits over the next five innings against the Raiders' No. 2 pitcher.
Unfortunately, two of those hits were consecutive in the fourth-- a double to deep left by Steve Born followed by Andrew Turner's RBI single up the middle for the eventual winning run.
The Raiders had earlier tied the score in the third, turning Conestoga pitcher Jake Bufo's early perfect game into a nightmare.
Bufo (7-0) had retired the first seven batters with no problems before Seneca Valley catcher John Davis broke the ice with a single to center. One out later, the Raiders were in business.
John Harper's single scored courtesy runner Daniel Barna. John Brittner's single put runners on first and third, and Harper dashed home on a wild pitch to make it 2-2. The Raiders loaded the bases when Matt Rafferty walked and Brittner evaded Conestoga third baseman Brandon Ruffena's tag attempt after Raffena couldn't come up with a hard-hit ball.
But the Raiders' chance to pile on some runs ended when Connor Coward's line drive was slapped to the turf by Bufo, who recovered and made the out at first.
"That line drive with the bases loaded was a great play," Conestoga coach John Vogan said. "But that's Jake. I can't say enough about him,"
Bufo would be at the tail-end of another huge defensive play two innings later.
Brittner drew a leadoff walk and moved to third after Rafferty's bouncer to first and Vincent Augustine's fly to deep center.
With Coward at the plate, Bufo fired a curve into the dirt, and the ball shot away from Conestoga catcher Turner. Brittner made the decision to charge the plate, but Turner made a fine recovery and nice toss to Bufo, who got the tag down just in time.
"That's a 100 percent play," Semega said. "The rule is if the ball gets away far enough to score, you make a 100 percent decision, either yes or no. I thought it was far enough away."
"That was the play of the game," Vogan said.