Seneca Valley outfielder John Harper sets his sights on a fly ball in the Raider's PIAA Class AAAA quarterfinal win Thursday against Dubois. Seneca advanced to face Conestoga Monday in the semifinals.
By Mike White / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
If the Seneca Valley baseball team was a building, then Eric Semega was part of the foundation, one of the first bricks laid 29 years ago. Semega was a sophomore on the first Seneca Valley team in 1985.
Now the program just might be the tallest building in the WPIAL baseball skyline, and Semega's fingerprints are all over the blueprints.
Semega is in his 14th season and has built the Raiders into one of the premier programs in Western Pennsylvania. Now he is a few wins from doing something only one coach in WPIAL history has done.
Seneca Valley will play in the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals Monday against Conestoga. If Seneca Valley goes on to win a PIAA title, Semega would become only the second coach in WPIAL history to win multiple titles at both the WPIAL and PIAA levels.
The only other coach with at least two WPIAL and PIAA titles is Riverside's Dan Oliastro, who has three WPIAL titles and four PIAA titles. The only other WPIAL coach to win more than one PIAA title was Moon's Tom Hoffman, who won PIAA championships in 2001 and 2002. But Hoffman never won a WPIAL title.
Semega, 44, has three WPIAL titles in the past four years and also won a PIAA title in 2007. This season, Semega led Seneca Valley to a spot in a WPIAL title game for the fourth consecutive year, which hasn't happened in the WPIAL in almost 100 years.
"I think the last few years, the credit for the success goes to all of the coaches," said senior pitcher Connor Coward. "But I think the record kind of shows what [Semega] has done."
Semega is a numbers guy (he teaches calculus and trigonometry at Seneca Valley), and he certainly has some impressive numbers on his resume. His record since taking over as coach in 2001 is 197-92 with seven section titles and 12 WPIAL playoff appearances.
Just don't expect Semega to be impressed by the numbers.
"To be honest, I'm the type of person who lives within the moment. I really don't reflect too much on the past, good or bad," he said. "I couldn't care less if anyone knows who the Seneca Valley coach is and that's the truth. My reward is the relationships, and the camaraderie with kids that go through this program, and keeping in contact with those kids after they play. I know there are accolades with winning, and maybe when I'm all done I'll go back and reminisce about things. But not now."
Semega's players say he is a stickler for proper technique on everything from hitting to pitching mechanics. When talking about himself, Semega laughs and says he thinks he has a bit of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
"Little things are very important to me and I will not budge on some things," he said.
Semega has been part of the program for more than two decades. Although he played as a sophomore at Seneca Valley, he moved to North Hills as a junior and graduated from that school in 1987. He was hired as a teacher at Seneca Valley in 1992 and became an assistant baseball coach under Dave Florie, who started the program in 1985.
Florie won a WPIAL and PIAA title in his time as coach before Semega took over in 2001. Semega built on what Florie established and then some, turning the Raiders turned into one of the WPIAL's best. The way Semega sees it, there are two keys to his success.
"I'd start first by saying I think [Seneca Valley] is a big baseball area," he said. "We have baseball players who come out for the team, and not kids who play baseball. There's a big, big difference.
"Secondly, there have been only two coaches in Seneca Valley history -- myself and coach Florie. I think the consistency has a lot to do with our success and how things are done the same year after year. Coach Florie was a little more old school. I'm a little old school, too, but with a twist."
Semega is really a coach for all seasons at Seneca Valley. He also coaches eighth-grade football and seventh-grade basketball.
But this baseball season is unlike any he has been through. The Raiders are one of the biggest turnaround stories in WPIAL history. They were 6-11 in the regular season, then got hot and became the first team to win a WPIAL title with a losing record. Now they are two wins from a PIAA title.
"For whatever reason, we were struggling to play the game [in the regular season]," Semega said. "I take the blame for that and all of the coaches have taken the blame and there was an understanding that we were admitting our faults."
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