North Xtra: Seneca Valley earns playoff bid

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It took an extra eight minutes of play Friday night, but eventually Seneca Valley clinched a spot in the WPIAL playoffs for the third consecutive season.

The Raiders (11-10, 6-7) took down Pine-Richland, 72-60, in double overtime, shutting out the Rams in the second extra session. The victory put Seneca Valley two games up on North Hills for the fourth and final playoff spot in Class AAAA Section 3 with two games to play. But the Raiders clinched Friday due to their sweep of the Indians this season.

The Raiders have done it implementing a new style this season.

"This is a brand new team and a new style," Seneca Valley coach Victor Giannotta said. "The kids wanted to go more up-tempo. It's been a little tougher since section play started because all the teams have scouted us and the games are played more in the half court, but we want to push it more."

The Raiders' move to a faster pace was necessitated by the loss of much of the size the team enjoyed last season. Seneca Valley lost Easton Bazzoli, R.J. McCauley, Alex Snyder and Zach Spangler to graduation, all of whom were at least 6 feet 3.

Now the Raiders have skill on the perimeter with the likes of senior Matt Darby, and juniors Chad Izenas, T.J. Holl and Dakota Topf.

Up front, 6-foot-6 Zach Snyder has helped ease graduation attrition the Raiders incurred, averaging a team-best 19.2 points per game. Josh Bauer, a 6-foot-5 forward, also helps inside and is coming off his best game of the season, a 20-point effort against Pine-Richland.

"I don't want to single anyone out because it's really been a total team effort," Giannotta said.

The new look Raiders have averaged 8.8 points per game more this season than last, when they reached the WPIAL Class AAAA semifinals. The team is also allowing an additional 10 points per game, however.

While the team's starters and style of play may be different, Seneca Valley can still look back to last season's team as inspiration for the postseason.

The Raiders also finished fourth in the ultra-competitive section last season, then advanced to the final four along with three other section rivals -- New Castle, Hampton and North Allegheny.

Just like last year, the Red Hurricanes, Talbots and Tigers are ranked as the top three teams in the classification. So while Seneca Valley may not get a good seed when the brackets are released next week, it knows that it has gotten to the semifinals from the No. 12 seed before.

"It all depends on the matchups and as I'm not a fortune-teller, I don't know what's it's going to be like," Giannotta said. "But we approach every game believing we can compete and pull out a victory in the end."

Giannotta said that even with a postseason berth clinched, he would approach the team's last few games of the season the same as he has all season.

But he may give his players a little more rest.

"We don't play as many guys this season," Giannotta said. "We're not as deep as were last year. So I'm going to try and keep the guys fresh. Tired legs lead to tired brains."

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