North Xtra: Seneca Valley comes out swinging

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With 11 letter-winners and all nine starters back, Seneca Valley has been able to start the 2014 season 6 for 6 in section play.

All seven teams in Class AAAA Section 3 have played at least six section games and Seneca Valley is the only one to start 6-0 within the section.

The Raiders blasted Fox Chapel Area, 11-0, to open the season and then knocked off perennial section powers North Allegheny and Shaler Area in back-to-back games. The Raiders defeated North Allegheny, 9-4, at home and then four days later they traveled to Shaler where they got past the Titans, 5-4.

They added wins against North Hills, Butler Area and Pine-Richland last week.

"I don't know if we have ever had quite this much experience back," Seneca Valley coach George Trew said. "That helps. Everybody is on the same page, they know what is expected. We jumped right in and got it done."

Every coach wishes to have all nine starters back every season but if there was a season to not have to break in a new team, this would be one of the first choices. Weather disruptions caused many local teams to open the season with section games. Seneca Valley had to cancel all of its scrimmages and it only had one outdoor practice before the season opener against Fox Chapel.

"We are not getting enough games in and obviously that makes it a little bit tougher," Trew said. "You don't have a chance to give everyone at-bats but they responded. They were ready to go."

Junior pitcher Nikki Matz was especially ready to go. Matz fired a no-hitter in the season opener against Fox Chapel.

"She is doing real well," Trew said. "Anytime you can beat NA and Shaler, you are having a good year."

Matz was a first-time starter last season as a sophomore. She shared pitching duties in the first half of the season before taking over the starting role in the second half. She finished with seven shutouts as a sophomore.

"[Her pitching] is fast enough to put it by people," Trew said. "She has good movement on her pitches. She has a little bit of both, speed and movement. Now that she has that year of experience and all the other people coming back, she is getting stronger."

The Raiders finished 11-7 overall last season and 6-6 in the section. They missed the playoffs by two games, finishing behind an 8-4 Pine-Richland team, which was third.

"I think the girls have come together," Trew said. "Last year we had a lot of question marks going in. We didn't have any experience at varsity pitching, there were a lot of things to work out. It took us a while to settle in.

"This year, you knew what was expected and that made it a little different. We were able to come right out of the gate."

With all the seniors and experience back it has actually been a freshman leading the team in hitting. Freshman outfielder Elayne Nagy was batting close to .600 going into this week.

"It has been a little bit of a surprise," Trew said. "We knew she had some talent but we weren't quite expecting this. It is a nice little surprise and just about everyone on the team is hitting better than last year."

She joins a lineup that also features junior third baseman Jess Nell and senior shortstop Alexa Sisko, the team's top batters last season. Nell is batting around .500 with Sisko batting around .400. As a team the Raiders have a .440 team batting average.

"We are hitting the ball and Nikki is giving us good pitching," Trew said.

Nell bats leadoff ahead of senior center fielder Alyssa Panza, senior right fielder Aubrey Behr and Sisko in the cleanup spot. Senior catcher Sarah Blagg bats fifth and either junior first basemen Julia Zezinka or Ashley Kappeler bat sixth. Matz hits in the seven hole with senior second baseman Paige Foley and senior left fielder Cassie Bachik turning over the lineup.

Seneca Valley was scheduled to play a non-section game against Blackhawk Wednesday.

"You can't ever count out Shaler, they are a little young this year but by the end of the season they will be tough and battling for a playoff spot," Trew said. "North Allegheny is solid. They are really, really good. They have almost everyone back like we do.

"Pine-Richland is playing well, North Hills upset Shaler and Butler is much better than they were last year. Any of those teams can beat you if you are not ready to go."

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