Baseball: Conestoga, Devon Prep battle for state title berths
By PETER DiGIOVANNI
Two area baseball teams try to take the last step towards playing for a PIAA title today.Conestoga will take on Seneca Valley at Green Township Park in Scotland at 4 p.m. in Class AAAA semifinal. Devon Prep will try to advance to the championship game by defeating District 11 champion Schulykill Haven at Parkland High School in Allentown.
Both head coaches feel their respective teams are playing very good baseball right now, but both know that their teams will be tested."We really hit the ball well finally against Red Land the other day,’ Conestoga coach John Vogan said. "I think the kids are feeling good about that the bats are just a little lighter than they were. This is the toughest game of the tournament because it is the cutthroat game. If you win today you go to State College and you know it is the last game and you go out and play. If you lose today, you feel awful because you came close and didn’t make it to the finals.
The Pioneers are coming off a 10-6 victory over Red Land in the the quarterfinals Friday, in which they broke out of their offensive slump, scoring nine runs in the last two innings."The kids have somme confidence because of the way they hit the ball against Red Land, but we know that Seneca Valley, although they don’t have an overall great record, is playing great baseball right now. They have caught fire in their last six games and that is what you want, your team to be hot at this time.’
Vogan also revealed who he will tab to be the starter for the semifinal."We will start Jake Bufo, on the mound on Monday. He is a pitcher not a thrower and he has good command of three or four pitches that he can throw for strikes. He comes right at you and is a great competitor. He also fields his position better than anybody we have had here. So, here we are in the semifinals and we feel we are ready to play good baseball.’
The Raiders (12-11) have had an interesting journey to get to this spot, they finished the regular season just 6-11, but caught fire to become the first WPIAL title with a losing record. Their success has carried over to the state playoffs with wins over Moon and an 8-0 blanking of Dubois in the quarters."Well, we got our number one pitcher, Conor Coward (a Virginia Tech recruit), back from an injury and we took off from there,’ coach Eric Semega said of his team’s turnaround.“We just seemed to play better defensively and offensively once that happened. It had a big impact on our team.
“I am not sure who will start for us because we have to see how everybody is feeling. We will decide sometime Monday morning. We know Conestoga has a great lineup and this will be a big test.’
Pick: If the Raiders do not go with Coward, expect senior right-hander Alex Hadjuk, who threw a four-hitter at Seneca Valley’s opening state playoff win, to get the call. The big hitters for the Raiders are Vince Augustine (four home runs) and Matt Rafferty who is hitting close to .400.
Bufo has been almost perfect this season, going 6-0 with a 0.82 ERA. The way the Pioneers swung the bats the last two innings against Red Land, with Jake Ogren, Tom Richeter and Andrew Born smashing the baseball, it is hard to pick against them. Conestoga 7, Seneca Valley 3.
Devon Prep (14-8) vs. Schuylkill Haven (20-6) at Parkland High School, 4 p.m.This Devon Prep team has gone further than any other in school history. The Tide demolished Canton, 12-1, in the quarterfinals after taking out York Catholic, 8-5, in the opening round.
Devon has gotten big hits from University of Pennsylvania-bound Sean Phelan and Boston College signee, catcher Dominic Hardaway. Also, Tony Gallo is hitting over .400 for the Tide. Devon coach Mark Aquilante hopes his team can keep it going against the District 11 champs."We are playing real good baseball right now,’ Aquilante said. “Usually District 11 is very good in Class A and Schulykill Haven is a good team. We are going to start John McSurdy on the mound. He is a sophomore and his bone bruise is fine after he got hit with a line drive against York Catholic. I know they really do not have a number one pitcher and the kid who threw for them in the quarterfinals threw 114 pitches, so we will not see him.”But, the way we are hitting the baseball right now and putting pressure on teams is real good right now. We feel very confident in John pitching. He pitched real well for us late in the season and we hope to take this thing to State College.’
Pick: Devon has talent at a lot of positions regardless of classification. Phelan and Hardaway are big-time players who could play anywhere. The two best players for the Hurricanes are juniors, Zavier Webb and leadoff hitter Ryan Fink, who can steal a base. Devon Prep 8, Schulykill Haven 4.