North Xtra: Seneca Valley, North Allegheny to meet again for title

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When the Seneca Valley Raiders walk onto the baseball field for their next game, they will have an opportunity to put themselves in elite company, not only in terms of this season, but in WPIAL history.

Seneca Valley is the two-time defending WPIAL Class AAAA champion. Since the WPIAL began contesting baseball championships in 1914, only two schools have won three titles in a row.

Pine-Richland did it most recently (2004-06), but you have to go all the way back to the early 20th century to find another. Allegheny High School -- which later left the WPIAL to join the City League -- won six in a row from 1917-22.

No team has won three consecutive WPIAL Class AAAA championships, but Seneca Valley (18-3) has a chance to do that when it takes on rival North Allegheny (19-4) at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Consol Energy Field in North Franklin, just outside of Washington.

It comes as little surprise that these two teams will meet with a gold medal at stake.

Seneca Valley is the No. 1 seed. North Allegheny is No. 2. At least one of the two have played in each of the past five Class AAAA championship games. North Allegheny won its most recent title in 2009 and finished as runner-up in 2010. The Tigers will be playing in the final for the 14th time in the past 27 years.

Every once in a while -- most frequently in the playoffs -- one might hear someone utter the phrase, "It's hard to beat a team three times in a season." Well, Seneca Valley will attempt to do just that against a North Allegheny team it defeated twice by 3-2 scores in the regular season in Section 1.

Seneca Valley coach Eric Semega refused to put much importance into the fact this will be the third meeting between the teams, saying that his players concentrating on their own play will be paramount in deciding the game's outcome.

"I look at it as another game, whether we've played a team one time or five times," Semega said. "We try not to focus much on the other side. We focus on what we can control.

"Hopefully we can control what we do on our side and hopefully that gives us the opportunity to win the game."

Just like the first two meetings, this one sets up to be a low-scoring affair, as both teams boast outstanding pitching. Neither squad surrendered a run in the quarterfinals or semifinals.

The matchup on the mound will likely feature Seneca Valley junior Connor Coward against North Allegheny junior Mitch Machi. Coward is 8-0 and Machi 6-0.

Coward fired a one-hitter in Seneca Valley's 2-0 quarterfinal win against Bethel Park and then a four-hitter in a 6-0 triumph against Pine-Richland in the semifinals.

Machi combined with senior James Meeker to shut out Plum, 5-0, in the quarterfinals, and then tossed a two-hitter in a 3-0 semifinal victory against Hempfield Area.

"Against a team like Pine-Richland, it's a credit to him to keep them off-balance and not let them dig in," Semega said of Coward's effort on Tuesday.

Senior Carson Kessler was the hitting star for Seneca Valley in that game, knocking in the game's first run on a first-inning single and then hitting a solo home run in the fifth.

"He had the home run, but that big hit in the first inning was clutch," Semega said. "That set the tone and put pressure on them."

North Allegheny coach Andy Maddix was pleased with his team's effort Tuesday against Hempfield. The Tigers had only six hits -- all of them singles -- but the team did an excellent job of moving runners up and then driving them in with clutch hits.

When Seneca Valley beat North Allegheny on April 25, Coward pitched a complete game with nine strikeouts and senior Brad Gresock hit a walk-off homer in the seventh.

Two weeks earlier, the Raiders scored twice in the top of the sixth to rally from a 2-1 deficit to gain the win.

Seneca Valley has defeated North Allegheny six times in a row.

After earning a third consecutive trip to the championship, Semega expressed to his players not to be content on just making another final.

Said Semega: "I told them not to be satisfied and to capitalize on this opportunity."



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