Avella gets clutch hits to top Springdale, end 15-year playoff win drought

Tuesday, May 14, 2024 | 8:02 PM

In the fourth inning of a WPIAL Class A first-round playoff game between Springdale and Avella, Bryce Wright of the Eagles hit a long foul ball to left field that clanged off the light standard and ricocheted back on the field.

It was kind of appropriate for the Avella pitcher as he was lights out on the mound.

Wright pitched into the seventh inning and left the game without yielding a run as Avella held off a late Springdale rally to win, 5-3.

The victory ended a playoff win drought for the Eagles of 15 years. The last Avella baseball playoff win was in May of 2009, 9-1 over Beth-Center in a first-round game.

“We’ve been talking about getting a playoff win for a long time, especially for this group with seven awesome seniors,” Avella coach Jason Fogg said. “We fell short last year against Rochester, and this has been our goal the whole offseason.”

The Eagles jumped out to an early lead against Springdale senior John Hughes with three runs in the bottom of the first inning.

An infield single by Isaiah Bradick scored Wright, and then following a wild pitch, a walk and two stolen bases, Westley Burchiante smacked a two-run single to left-center field to make it 3-0.

Avella added on with single runs in the second and third innings on RBI singles by Chas Rush and Hayden Gatewood.

In all, four of the five runs Avella scored were on clutch two-out hits.

“Their pitcher, (John) Hughes, is an excellent pitcher, so to get three off them early I think stunned them a little bit,” Fogg said. “Unfortunately, I think we went into coast mode after that where we have to keep grinding out at-bats.”

Hughes pitched well but did not have good fortune on his side.

The Allegheny College commit allowed five runs on seven hits in 5⅓ innings. However, two of those seven were infield hits and four others were little flares that fell in between the infield and outfield with very few balls squared up by Eagles hitters.

“John Hughes is a chronic victim of flares, bleeders and untimely two-out errors,” Springdale coach Dante Mahlmeister said. “John is the kind of guy where if you are in a big game, there is no question as to who is getting the ball. He’ll go out there and throw 210 pitches if you let him.”

While Hughes was battling the Eagles hitters, the Dynamos were getting blown away by the sophomore Wright.

The right hander blanked Springdale on three hits through six innings with only two walks and 13 strikeouts.

Wright also delivered two hits at the plate and scored two runs for Avella.

“He’s been that way all season for us,” Fogg said. “When our top two pitchers went down early, he was right there to pick up all that slack and take on a No. 1 role. He’s done nothing but battle at the plate and on the mound.”

The Dynamos did not go down without a fight.

After singles by Andrew Redman and Noah Robbins chased Wright, a sac fly by Dustin Werksman got the Dynamos on the board.

Then, against reliever Chas Rush, Jackson Muller walked, Owen Scheuring added an infield single to score a second run and a bases-loaded walk to Hughes cut the Avella lead to two runs.

With the tying run now in scoring position, Bradick entered the game and struck out Alex Wylly and Joe Lobig to seal the victory.

Avella improved to 10-5 and hopes to keep the magic going Monday in a 2A quarterfinal against Fort Cherry.

The Eagles and Rangers split their two Section 1 series games this season with Fort Cherry winning, 14-4, while Avella countered with a 14-8 victory.

Springdale ends its season with a record of 5-10, but with a young lineup of three freshmen, two sophomores and two juniors, Mahlmeister hopes this first playoff game in seven years is something to grow on.

“This was a giant step forward,” he said. “This is our third year here and the first two years, we were on the outside looking in for the playoffs. Our goal this season was to become a legitimate playoff team and we accomplished that. There’s a lot of experience to be gained by this.”

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