Burrell softball catches a break, tops McGuffey in Class 3A 1st round

Tuesday, May 15, 2018 | 9:18 PM

At long last, a break went Burrell's way.

The team that experienced postseason misfortune each of the past two years saw life from the other side Tuesday. A line drive that would have driven in at least one run instead became an inning-ending out, and the Bucs took advantage with a homer to put the game away.

When the dust settled, No. 5 Burrell earned a 10-4 victory over No. 12 McGuffey in a WPIAL Class 3A first-round softball game at Latrobe's Graham-Sobota Field, moving the Bucs on to the quarterfinals for the second consecutive season.

“That saved us,” said Burrell coach Brian Eshbaugh, whose team will play No. 4 Avonworth (12-6) on Thursday at a time and site to be determined. “That was one time when a break went our way. It doesn't seem like we ever get a break, and we got a break that time.”

The sequence in question came in the top of the sixth inning, with Burrell (12-4) holding on to a 7-4 lead. McGuffey put runners on first and third with two outs, and leadoff hitter Breanne Hunter hit a solid line drive between first and second base that struck baserunner Zoey Maze in the foot.

Instead of cutting Burrell's lead to one or two runs, the play became an automatic third out, and Brittany Dunn's three-run home run in the bottom of the inning turned a potential nail-biter into a decisive victory.

“Runners on base, we're trying everything we can to get outs,” said Dunn, also the winning pitcher. “That's unfortunate for them, but luckily it worked out for us.”

That was certainly a change from the past two years: In 2016, the Bucs lost to Steel Valley in extra innings in the first round, when the International Tiebreaker Rule came into play. Last season, they led top-ranked Ellwood City by three runs in the sixth inning only to lose on a walk-off.

This time, McGuffey (4-8) ended its season with heartbreak. The Highlanders rallied from an early five-run deficit, but the sixth inning sequence proved costly. They loaded the bases in the seventh inning against Dunn, but the Pitt-Greensburg recruit struck out Shelby Dobrzynski to end the game.

“That hit gets through, that's a double and scoring two runs, and now it's a one-run game with a runner on second with the top of the lineup,” McGuffey coach Brett Shriver said. “Any one of those girls had a chance to put a line drive out there. That was just a bad break. It happens.”

McGuffey jumped on Burrell in the top of the first inning as Dunn experienced some uncharacteristic wildness. Hunter scored on a wild pitch and Emily Irey added a run-scoring single to give the Highlanders a two-run lead.

Burrell answered with five runs in the bottom of the first as Dunn cracked a run-scoring double, Charlie Confer's fly ball dropped in for an RBI single, Rykki Wyble drove in a run with a groundout and Elizabeth Clark lined a two-run single. The Bucs added two more runs in the second on Lea Coffman's RBI single and Kelly Nitowski's RBI double.

“That was big,” Eshbaugh said. “Jumping up on them, that showed the other team that we're going to fight the whole way to the end. They played great.”

McGuffey scored twice in the fourth inning on RBI singles by Abigail Blackhurst and Irey, but that was the closest the Highlanders got.

Dunn pitched seven innings, allowing four runs on nine hits, walking five and striking out eight. Burrell outfielders Cara Fiore and Maia Ferra made diving catches in center and right, respectively, as the Bucs turned in an error-free performance on defense.

“They never quit all year long,” Shriver said. “You've got to hand it to Burrell's outfielders; they're a talented group. They stole some. If we had them back, that could be the difference, as well.”

Burrell had 13 hits, led by Kayla Santucci's 4-for-4 performance.

The Bucs now will look to the quarterfinals, seeking their first trip to the semifinals since they won the 2011 WPIAL title.

“We've been working hard for it, so it feels good to get that weight off our shoulders that we can compete with other teams,” Dunn said.

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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