Sewickley Academy baseball collected wins, valuable experience during strong season

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Sunday, June 12, 2022 | 9:01 AM


Sewickley Academy approached the WPIAL baseball playoffs with a “one game at a time” attitude.

The Panthers ended up playing two games, defeating Avella, 7-4, in the Class A first round before losing to Rochester, 2-0, in the quarterfinals.

SA finished in second place in Section 3-A and ended the season with a 9-6 overall record. The Panthers compiled an 8-2 record in the section, won by Eden Christian at 10-0.

“We had high expectations for this team,” SA assistant Anthony Garofalo said. “We believe they exceeded those expectations. If you were to tell us that going into the last week of the regular season we would have a chance at the section title, we would have taken that.

“After having a great regular season, the team was hungry for more and they didn’t want the season to end. The team fought out a tough first-round win versus Avella, which gave us even more confidence going into the second round. We came up just short in the second round to Rochester, but there was no quit in the team. They fought to the very end. With that being said, the experience they received from this year’s playoffs will only help this team in the future.”

Sewickley indeed was an experienced club this spring as junior shortstop Adin Zorn, senior third baseman Sajen Schuchert, sophomore first baseman Jordan Smith and catcher Nick Straka, infielder Bennett Spencer and outfielder Nick Madison, all juniors, were returning starters. Zorn, Schuchert, Smith and Spencer also bolstered the pitching staff.

“This team gained a ton of game experience from the prior year,” Garofalo said. “The leadership on this team helps tremendously with getting everyone on the same page and all working toward the common goals of winning a section championship and working toward a WPIAL championship.”

Success from A to Z

Zorn led the club in several offensive categories, including batting average (.617), on-base percentage (.690), slugging percentage (1.106), home runs (3), runs (22), hits (29) and doubles (12). He rated second-best in RBIs (15) and stolen bases (9).

“I am extremely proud of our team’s performance this season,” Zorn said. “We finished with a fantastic section record and earned a high seed in the playoffs. We were able to win a playoff game, which was awesome, and in Round 2, we just came up short in a great battle with Rochester.”

Zorn landed the team’s Most Outstanding Player Award for the second consecutive season.

“Adin continues to shine for us, and it shows with his play but also his leadership,” Garofalo said. “Adin batted over .500 last year and we challenged him to be even better this year, and he did just that. Batting over .600 this season and being one of the leaders, it was a no-brainer that he received this award.

“Adin does everything at 110%. There is never a moment where he is not hustling, and he does such a good job of rallying the team or calming the team down in a tense situation.”

A season highlight for the Panthers was their two-game sweep in back-to-back games against Riverview in late April. SA won by scores of 11-10 and 8-7.

“I think the Riverview series sticks out as a big piece of our season,” Zorn said. “In the first game, we went down 6-0 in the first inning but never gave in and were able to rally and win. In Game 2, we went back and forth but pulled out another huge one-run win. That series gave us a huge confidence boost and brought us together as a team.”

Senior leader

Schuchert, a 5-foot-11, 160-pound right-handed athlete and four-year varsity player, was the only senior on the 2022 squad.

“I’m very glad how this season went. I’ve watched this team grow so much from winning four games in my freshman year to being a contender in the WPIAL playoffs this year,” Schuchert said. “I am beyond proud of the team and thankful for all of the lessons, memories and relationships I’ve made. I can’t wait to see what they do next year.”

Schuchert has a 3.8 GPA and was a participant in a few school musicals. He will attend William & Mary in the fall, major in law and anticipates participating in club baseball. He played third base and pitched throughout his career at SA.

“I would not be the person and player I am today if it weren’t for my coaches — coach (Andrew) Petruska and coach G — so a big thanks to them for everything,” Schuchert said.

If there was an “unsung hero” on this year’s club, Garofalo said Schuchert filled the role.

“I would have to give it to Sajen,” Garofalo said. “The way he pitched this year was excellent. We expected him to be a key pitcher, but I think he went above and beyond on the mound. He was 3-1 with a sub-3 ERA. And he ate a lot of innings for us all year.

“One of the big moments was his start against Springdale, striking out 12 and only surrendering two hits.”

Schuchert compiled a 2-1 record with a 2.92 ERA. He fanned 27 batters in 26.1 innings and allowed just one home run.

The SA senior said his team’s 11-10 victory at Riverview was a season highlight.

“We knew we could fight back and keep chipping away at that lead,” he said. “We ended up fighting back and winning through a full team effort.”

Schuchert and Zorn played side-by-side on the left half of the infield and have been teammates for three years. Zorn is a Penn State recruit who will lead a large group of returning starters on next year’s team.

“I expect us to be back at the top of our section,” Zorn said, “and to be in the mix to win a WPIAL title.

“I would like thank Sajen, our lone senior, for all his contributions to the program. He is a fantastic player but an even better person and leader. He meant a lot to our team and will definitely be missed.”

Team effort

Smith and Straka enjoyed banner seasons in 2022, ranking second and third in most offensive statistics.

Smith led the club in RBIs with 18, and ranked second in batting average (.489), on-base percentage (.569), slugging percentage (.510) and hits (23). He struck out just twice in 58 plate appearances and, defensively, did not make a single error.

For his season-long efforts, Smith received the team’s Most Improved Player Award.

“Jordan improved a lot with his swing this year,” Garofalo said. “He worked really hard in the offseason and it showed. He really did a great job of going with the pitch and routinely went the other way. Also, with only being a sophomore, he was the ace of the pitching staff and started his second playoff game of his career.”

Straka, who landed the Coaches Award, was the team’s leading base-stealing threat with 14 stolen bases. He tied with Zorn in the RBI department with 15, and ranked third in batting average (.370), on-base percentage (.500), slugging percentage (.478) and hits (17).

“Nick was a key to the team’s success this year,” Garofalo said. “He was a clutch hitter and caught every inning behind the dish. He really showed his leadership with his play and vocalness.”

Bennett Spencer, a junior hurler, won three of four decisions and posted a 2.66 ERA with one save. Smith, the team’s workhorse with 39.1 innings on the mound and 20 strikeouts, finished with two wins.

Top newcomers on the team included Hudson Colletti, a junior outfielder, and a trio of freshman outfielders — Laurence Topper, Nolan Donnelly and Andrew Colletti. Hudson Colletti scored 16 runs and stole eight bases this season.

Playoff regulars

Sewickley started out 3-1, then won five games in a row in April to go to 8-2. The Panthers averaged 6.8 runs per game in the regular season but entered the playoffs on a three-game losing streak.

Not counting the pandemic-marred 2020 season, the Panthers have advanced to the WPIAL playoffs seven times since 2013 and won a section title in 2015 when they tied with Western Beaver and Rochester atop Section 3-A.

“We are only losing one senior this year, and he will be missed,” Garofalo said. “But there is a lot to look forward to going into next season. We will have five senior returners next season who are all key players.

“I think with the experience and confidence this team continues to get each year, the sky is the limit for them. We believe we will be in the section title conversation at the end of the (2023) season, as well making a deeper run in the WPIAL playoffs.”

SA’s cumulative record in its seven recent playoff years is 66-43.

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