Burrell puts pressure on Freeport, wins section showdown

Tuesday, April 11, 2023 | 9:39 PM

The Burrell baseball team is rolling along, despite coach Mark Spohn’s occasional declarations of despair.

“We looked better today than we did the last time out,” he said. “We had a couple (of mistakes) where we didn’t get some runs in. Those are things we’ll go over.”

Nevermind that the Bucs won for the sixth time in seven games Tuesday, beating host Freeport, 13-7, in a WPIAL Section 3-3A game.

The teams are tied for second place with identical records (6-2, 4-1) heading into a rematch Wednesday at Burrell.

“It’ll be competitive,” Spohn said. “They’ll be ready to play.”

The Yellowjackets apparently weren’t prepared for their latest encounter.

Burrell took advantage of sloppy fielding and inconsistent pitching by Freeport, which irked coach Ed Carr, who took responsibility for his team’s rare lapse.

Freeport came into the game having outscored its opponents 49-12 and was on a four-game winning streak.

“We didn’t play well. That’s the bottom line,” Carr said. “It just wasn’t our game. We let them do what they wanted to do, offensively, especially later in the game, because they had a lead. I’ll own that as a coach.”

Brayden Mell went 3 for 3 and Mell and winning pitcher Ryan Scheftic each stroked two-run singles during a six-run fourth inning to lead Burrell.

Sheftic started on the mound and pitched four-plus innings for the Bucs, giving up three hits and three earned runs. He walked three and did not record a strikeout. But it was enough to keep Burrell in the game.

Justin Hyland relieved Sheftic during Freeport’s four-run uprising in the fifth, but failed to record an out before Steve Hasson came on to extinguish the rally and go on to pitch the final three innings, yielding just one earned run.

Freeport scored all four runs during the frame without the benefit of a hit. There were four walks, one hit batter and sacrifice flies by Michael Hanz and AJ McLafferty, who produced the game’s only extra-base hit with a third-inning double.

Carr was disappointed with Freeport’s “uncharacteristic” mental mistakes. He also hoped the seven errors were an aberration, pointing out that the Yellowjackets have been averaging just one miscue per game.

“We weren’t prepared to play today,” he said. “The mental aspect was probably as important in contributing to our mistakes as anything else today. We got behind and kind of beat ourselves. We told these guys, ‘Think about it, assess it, and come back (today).’ Sometimes, it’s a good thing to be humbled and get back at it.”

Hanz started and took the loss for Freeport, lasting just 3.1 innings.

While the teams combined for 11 errors and 12 walks, Burrell benefitted the most.

Hanz, who combined with fellow sophomore Zach Clark to pitch a no-hitter March 21 against Apollo-Ridge, struggled with his control and managed just one strikeout.

“We only struck out twice, so that was kind of the recipe,” Spohn said. “It’s always good to get a W. I thought we played really, really aggressive. We didn’t take a backseat at all. We were the aggressors.”

Burrell erased a 1-0 lead in the third, scoring twice with the help of two errors.

“When you put pressure on a pitcher — especially a younger kid … when they booted a couple of balls behind him, we got him kind of frustrated and he struggled to throw strikes a little bit,” Spohn said. “We were up in the count a lot. Our goal is to not have strikeouts because he’s averaging double-digit strikeouts.”

Freeport tied it in the bottom of the third on Jack Smetak’s RBI single before Burrell built an 8-2 lead in the fourth, knocking out Hanz.

In what was anything but a harsh assessment this time, Spohn said: “They’re a good team, but we’re not too bad ourselves. We’re getting better.”

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