Katie Armstrong’s 16 strikeouts propel Burrell past Mohawk into Class 3A semifinals

Thursday, May 18, 2023 | 8:26 PM

Fourth-seeded Burrell’s momentum from the second round carried into the WPIAL Class 3A softball quarterfinals as the Buccaneers defeated No. 5 Mohawk, 5-1, on Thursday at Montour.

The Buccaneers were fueled by pitcher Katie Armstrong.

Burrell mustered five runs on one hit in the first two innings, plenty for how Armstrong was pitching. Armstrong tossed a complete game, striking out 16 while allowing only three hits and one run. She struck out the Warriors’ side twice.

Armstrong said the key was keeping the Mohawk batters off-balance and changing speeds.

“It was just mixing my pitches,” she said. “I was just on today, having a good day and just knowing my defense was behind me to support if they did hit the ball, just having that gave me confidence.”

Buccaneers coach Rick Nealer was duly impressed with — but not necessarily surprised by — Armstrong’s performance.

“That’s Katie,” Nealer said. “Katie is awesome. I mean, she’s one of the best pitchers out there, and we’re lucky to have her. We’re blessed with her.”

Armstrong’s dominant performance led to Burrell into the semifinals, where it will face top-seeded Avonworth. The Antelopes defeated Central Valley, 10-0, on Thursday.

Burrell and Avonworth faced each other in Section 1-3A play, with the Lopes winning both, 4-1 and 2-1.

The Bucs struck first, notching two runs in the first inning without a hit. Jenna Morrison led off with a walk. Bella Stewart put down a sacrifice bunt and reached safely on a throwing error. After a wild pitch advanced both runners, Armstrong helped herself with an RBI groundout.

Burrell got its second run of the inning when Pyper Ferres reached on an error.

In the second inning, the Buccaneers notched three more runs.

With Cassidy Novak on second and Haylee Heasley on third, Abbie Larko drove in both runners on a bunt down the third-base line.

The third baseman charged and fired to first, but there was no one there covering. Larko wound up at second base and scored the Bucs’ fifth run after two wild pitches.

“In playoff games, it’s big,” Nealer said about scoring early. “You want to get up in front at the beginning of the game, and you want to put pressure on the other team and the girls really came out firing on all cylinders. It was really good to get up ahead.”

The Warriors tallied their only run when a double by Alivia Hare scored Aricka Young. Reagan Magno went the distance, giving up only four hits and three earned runs.

Mohawk has one of the youngest teams, rostering one senior, Ava Nulph. Youth was a contributing factor to the loss, said coach Hank Pezzuolo.

“The more experienced, the better,” he said. “We have five freshmen starting out there. We dug out a win against South Park the other day, and then today we just didn’t have our best. But it’s great for them to have the learning experience and moving forward, we got a bright future.”

This year, the Buccaneers will be looking for more than a consolation tournament win. They want a WPIAL championship, and nemesis Avonworth stands in the way.

“It will be hard practice, keep continuing to work hard and just keep pushing ourselves to keep getting better and better and, hopefully, come out on top,” Armstrong said.

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