Rich Serignese is no stranger to pressure on the baseball field.
The Neshannock High sophomore twice defeated WPIAL Class AA champion and PIAA runner-up Beaver a year ago, so facing a team that put up eye-popping numbers the night before was a piece of cake.
“I’ve been playing high-end travel ball since I was eight years old,” Serignese said. “I’ve been pitching against the best teams whether it’s Cincinnati or Louisville. I’ve been playing the best of the best, even playing up. I’ve been well-prepared to pitch at a level like this.”
EARNING THE NOD
Serignese needed just 64 pitches over seven innings April 2 to help the Lancers shut out a Mohawk team that had pounded out 21 runs on 25 hits the night before against Laurel. He scattered four hits, struck out six and didn’t issue a walk in the outing.
The performance earned him Lawrence County Athlete of the Week honors, an award sponsored by Washington Centre Physical Therapy and selected by the New Castle News sports staff.
“I had real good command of my curveball,” Serignese said. “It was the best it’s been in a while. My fastball was on. My changeup was real efficient. I had them guessing a lot.”
Serignese is 3-0 with a 0.44 earned run average and is limiting opponents to a .151 batting average. He has has scattered eight hits, struck out 20 and walked three in 16 innings, while allowing just a single run.
“We’re pretty fortunate that we have a bunch of young players that played a lot for us last year,” Kirkwood said. “They’ve picked up right where they left off last year. They expect more out of themselves and we expect more out of them. I feel if you work and you prepare that you can have a little bit of confidence, because you’ve put the time in.
“Rich does that. He plays in Youngstown over the summer five, six days a week. He does all that he can in the offseason to make himself better.”
SETTING THE TONE
With the Warriors coming off a 25-hit, 21-run performance less than 24 hours before, it was up to the Lancers’ right-hander to set the tone early.
“I had a six-pitch inning in the first,” Serignese said. “They had 25 hits the night before and I got them on six pitches. We came up and got four runs. That took the gas out of them.
“I knew from there it was going to be a good day. That first inning set the tone for the whole game. We had all the momentum in the world.”
Mohawk’s offensive output served as a wake-up call to the young pitcher.
“Coach Kirkwood called me the night before and said ‘They’re a good team,’ ” Serignese said of Mohawk. “Hearing they scored 21 runs and had 25 hits, I put a little more preparation into it, knowing this team was for real. I read more scouting reports and did a lot more thinking before the game.”
Serignese’s 64 pitches against Mohawk are symbolic of a Kirkwood philosophy.
“That exemplifies what we try to do,” the Neshannock coach said. “When we’re working out and getting ready for the season, we say 15 pitches equals one inning. We tell them when they’re facing somebody that within three pitches you have to make something happen. If you’re working quick and you’re working fast, the defense is ready.”
The Lancers’ defense already has gained Serignese’s trust.
“There’s days where you want to be a strikeout pitcher or days when you want to rely on your defense,” Serignese said. “Against Mohawk, I was looking to pitch to contact and rely on my defense.
“We have one of the best defenses around. Anytime when I’m on the mound, I know I can rely on my teammates to make good plays. It gives you confidence to pitch knowing guys like Ernie Burkes and Marcus Giangiuli are right behind you in the middle of the defense. Marcus is probably the best center fielder around.”
Serignese also is pulling his weight at the plate, leading the team with a .583 batting average.
He has slapped five singles, a double and an inside-the-park home run in his 13 official at-bats this season, according to Kirkwood.
“There’s no easy outs in our lineup,” Serignese said. “Our team hits the ball real well. One through nine, we can hit.”
A RARE COMMODITY
The Neshannock baseball coaching staff had to continually turn Serignese away from open gyms this winter.
“First and foremost, he’s a competitor,” Kirkwood said. “That’s one of his best qualities. There were times when he had basketball practice, but he wanted to come to baseball and we wouldn’t let him. You finish the season you’re in first. He’s always wanting to come down and get some reps. We have to turn him away.”
Kirkwood said Serignese’s mental acumen is light years ahead of his age.
“He’s only a 10th-grader, but he’s thinking two or three pitches down the road instead of his next pitch,” Kirkwood said. “That’s kind of unique for such a young kid.”
Serignese and classmate Frank Fraschetti have formed a nice 1-2 punch on the mound for the Lancers.
“This is our ninth year together,” Serignese said. “We boost each other. He goes out against Ellwood on opening day and gets us the win. I go out the next day and get us the win. We push each other to get better. That’s how it’s been for the past nine years. He makes me better.”
FIELD OF DREAMS
Every summer, neighborhood children flock to the Serigneses’ Pearl Drive home to compete in whiffle ball tournaments at “Pearl Park,” which was built by Serignese’s dad Rich in the family’s back yard.
“It’s not as good anymore, but it’s still there,” the younger Serignese said. “That whiffle ball field is where it all started for me. A few teams would come and we’d play whiffle ball games in my backyard.
“It was the best. As a little kid, my first love was baseball. I could name every Pittsburgh Pirates player. Whether it was six or eight in the morning or late at night, I loved to be out there playing with my dad. That was the best.”
THE RICH SERIGNESE FILE
PARENTS: Rich and Melinda Serignese
KNOWN FOR: Needing 64 pitches to limit Mohawk to four hits over seven innings April 2 after the Warriors registered 21 runs on 25 hits the night before against Laurel.
FAVORITE PLAYER AND WHY: The Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout. “He plays every game like it’s his last. He gives 100 percent and never takes a day off. He’s brings the best out of his teammates.”
FAVORITE TEAM AND WHY: The Pittsburgh Pirates. “They’re the hometown team, but they have a good story. They’re a low payroll team. They’re not out buying guys like other teams. They’re homemade.”
FUTURE PLANS: “My goal is play college baseball. I don’t know where yet. I’d like to get there someday.”