Sewickley Academy baseball overcomes obstacles to earn playoff berth

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Sunday, June 30, 2024 | 11:01 AM


The Sewickley Academy baseball team produced a successful squeeze play in 2024 at the end of its section schedule.

Sewickley won consecutive games against Clairton twice and Carlynton once down the season’s home stretch to clinch a WPIAL playoff berth in Section 3-A.

The Panthers finished fourth in the section with a 5-7 record behind Eden Christian (12-0), Bishop Canevin (10-2) and Carlynton (7-5) and ahead of Clairton (4-8) and Cornell (4-8). Bishop Canevin has won back-to-back WPIAL championships.

Two of Sewickley’s top players in 2024 were seniors Jordan Smith (P/IF/OF) and Michael Woo (P/OF).

“Jordan and Michael were able to gather a few other seniors and underclassmen to join the team,” coach Andrew Petruska said, “as we lost six seniors and a few underclassmen to other sports.

“We battled daily in the classroom and on the field and had a little adversity, but as I remind these guys daily, baseball is the hardest sport out there and you must learn how to deal with certain items because when you leave Sewickley Academy we are preparing you for the real world.”

The Panthers took a 5-10 record into the playoffs where they lost a first-round decision to Western Beaver, 11-5.

“Our expectations for the season were to learn the game, have fun, compete and be a great teammate,” Petruska said.

Two leading returning players for the Panthers in 2025 will be pitcher/infielder Nolan Donnelly, a three-year starter, and outfielder Billy Pietragallo, a two-year starter. Donnelly will be a senior; Pietragallo will return for his junior season.

“They will be great team leaders for the 2025 baseball team,” Petruska said.

Donnelly, a three-sport athlete who also competes in basketball and golf, hit .385 this season and ranked third on the club in slugging percentage and doubles.

“I think the dedication our team had was very special,” Donnelly said. “We persevered through all kinds of obstacles that other teams in our difficult section did not encounter. We had only four returning varsity players, meaning we had to find more than half of a new team.

“Some kids came back to the game after not playing for years and became a crucial part of our team such as Karan Kad, Cooper Wentz and Raphael Jones. Watching them work so hard for a team they had never played on was really special to me.”

Pietragallo, who also plays golf at Sewickley, batted .462 with a .571 OBP. He ranked among the team leaders in slugging percentage, runs, hits, doubles, RBIs and stolen bases.

He was impressed by the performance of the group of new players on the Sewickley diamond this year.

“I think a lot of the newer players did a good job of adapting back into baseball,” Pietragallo said. “The only expectations I have are to give and show effort every day.”

Pietragallo is competing for the Steel City Select 18U baseball team this summer.

The Panthers will look next spring to replace the veteran presence of the baseball-savvy Smith, who contributed significantly to the program for four years.

Smith led the club in batting average (.548), slugging percentage (.857), on-base percentage (.596), stolen bases (16), hits (23), RBIs (19) and doubles (6) in 2024.

Woo, meanwhile, hit .324 and led the team on defense with a .963 fielding percentage.

Other team members included juniors Will Straka and Andrew Colletti, plus a skillful batch of freshmen: Jacob Stanislaw, Grant Karlik, David Young, Alex Sanfilippo, Giovanni DiDomenico and Caden Stanlaske.

Straka finished in the Panthers’ top three in batting average (.385), runs and RBIs.

Stanislaw hit .327 and ranked among the team leaders in runs, hits and triples.

Donnelly, Woo, Straka, Kad, Stanislaw and Wentz played in all 16 games for the Panthers, who ended the year with a .351 team batting average.

“Jacob Stanislaw stepped up as a freshman to start every varsity game, playing any position asked of him,” Donnelly said. “It was really impressive to watch.”

Donnelly, Straka and Stanislaw are expected to anchor the pitching staff in 2025.

“Next season looks promising despite the challenge of replacing Jordan Smith,” Petruska said. “With multiple returning starters, the team is expected to build on its experience and continue its growth.

“These players will have developed good chemistry, enhancing on-field coordination and off-field camaraderie. While filling the gap left by Smith will be crucial, focusing on developing new pitching talent and ensuring balanced contributions across our hitting, fielding and base running will help maintain strong overall team performance.”

Petruska already has a blueprint in place to help the Panthers focus on their competitiveness in 2025.

“Staying positive and working hard both on and off the field will be key strategies for success,” he said. “Encouraging returning starters to take on leadership roles, focusing on fundamentals during practice and emphasizing physical conditioning will help refine skills and build confidence.

“Incorporating mental preparation, such as visualization techniques and goal setting, will also be important. Additionally, organizing team-building activities and maintaining a system of regular feedback will strengthen team unity and keep players motivated. By implementing these strategies, the team can look forward to a competitive and fulfilling season.”

Donnelly offered a pragmatic outlook to the 2024 and 2025 seasons at Sewickley.

“Our record (in 2024) didn’t look the best on paper and honestly we figured that might be the case,” he said. “But we were thrilled with our season because we competed in every game and that was what we decided to do: compete every game.

“Next year, I’m confident the team will continue to grow and improve. I can’t say honestly that we will be a star-studded team that wins a section or WPIAL title. I can say that we will compete in every game and grow as a team by the end of the year.”

It must sound like music to the ears of Petruska, who will be in his ninth year as Sewickley’s coach in 2025. He was assisted this season by Jon Coyne, Craig Edmunds and Tony Carrillo.

The Panthers’ veteran field boss recently ran a week-long youth summer baseball camp at Nichols Field for third- through sixth-grade students.

“We had lots of kids at the camp,” Petruska said, “and they loved seeing the high school players come out through the week to learn the game of baseball and have fun.

“The camp was a great opportunity for the younger kids to interact with the high school players, fostering a sense of community and excitement for the sport. It also allowed the high school players to serve as role models, sharing their skills and passion for baseball with the next generation.”

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