North Xtra: Seneca Valley eyes a rare WPIAL 'three-peat'

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With seven regulars returning, the Seneca Valley baseball team is poised to become only the second team since the WPIAL expanded to multiple classifications in 1979 to win three consecutive WPIAL titles.

And the possible feat isn't lost on the players.

"It would be huge to be part of a team that makes history like that," senior shortstop Sam Fragale said. "That's our motivation this year."

But to join the 2004-06 Pine-Richland teams that won three WPIAL Class AAA titles in a row, Seneca Valley will have to remain focused. Coming off the 2011 WPIAL Class AAAA championship, the Raiders (18-5 in 2012) were too relaxed at the start of last season, according to both Fragale and Seneca Valley coach Eric Semega.

"We thought we could just show up," Semega said. "But when you have a target on your back and everyone wants to beat you, you have to be ready to play every game."

"In the beginning of last season, we just toned it down," Fragale said. "We were a little too relaxed in practice. We need to stay focused on what we need to do to keep winning."

That's where having so many returning starters, many of whom are upperclassmen, should help.

The Raiders' projected starting lineup starts out with six seniors -- center fielder Jon Dorogy, catcher Brad Gresock, Fragale, pitcher/first baseman Zach Spangler, pitcher/right fielder Jason Martin and third baseman Carson Kessler.

Juniors Gianpaul Gonzalez, in his first year at Seneca Valley, and Connor Coward will bat seventh and eighth, respectively, and sophomore Troy Martin, Jason's brother, will bat in the No. 9 spot.

"These guys have been around and they know what it takes in terms of physical talent and ability to get where they want to be," Semega said.

The Raiders have no shortage of talent. Fragale is a four-year player for the Raiders who will play baseball at Virginia Tech next season. He hit better than .500 last season and drove in 22 runs on his way to being named an all-section performer.

Dorogy, who also was a standout for the school's football squad, joined Fragale on the all-section team last season and Gresock has caught the past two WPIAL championship games.

Spangler, meanwhile, is one of the top two-way players in the league and will play baseball at Kent State next season. He will take over the No. 1 pitching duties from the graduated Matt Smith, who was 20-2 over the past two seasons and won both WPIAL title games on the mound.

"I think Spangler can do just as good a job if not better," Fragale said. "And we're definitely deeper this year than last."

Jason and Troy Martin should also see time on the mound, as will Coward.

"Matt lost only two games in two years and it's tough to replace that," Semega said. "But we have a lot of good, talented pitchers. Most of them are just young in terms of experience. We have to get them experience in pressure situations."

Unfortunately, the weather hasn't cooperated. The Raiders first three games were postponed and the team has spent most of its time indoors. They were scheduled to play Pine-Richland Wednesday in a non-section game.

"We have cabin fever," Semega said.

But when the team finally does get on the field, Fragale said the Raiders will go as far as their intangibles take them.

"For us to win again, it's going to take a lot of focus and hard work," Fragale said. "We have all the talent we need to win, but we need to just go out and do what we need to do."



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