Burrell softball motivated for final run under coach Brian Eshbaugh

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Saturday, March 9, 2019 | 10:44 PM


Evidence of the Burrell softball team’s motivation — and its persistent practice — lies in some beyond-battered equipment.

“We’ve been hitting until our batting gloves are literally just shredded,” senior Lea Coffman said. “It’s ridiculous how much we do.”

A WPIAL playoff team the past 13 seasons, Burrell knows the amount of work it takes to get there. But the Bucs’ motivation lies deeper, as in a deeper postseason run.

Last season ended in a 3-0 loss to Southmoreland in the WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinals — hence the extra batting practice — the second consecutive season, and fourth in the past five, that Burrell bowed out in that round. The Bucs last advanced to the semifinals in 2011, when they won the WPIAL Class AA championship.

With seven of nine full-time starters returning, Burrell wants to see that change.

“Five o’clock gets there (for) practice time, and I don’t need to tell them what to do: They’re right on it,” coach Brian Eshbaugh said.

“They know what they have to do now. Most of these girls have been playing or actually starting for three, four years, some all four years. They’re a great crew to lead the team this year because they know what it takes to win. You have to give 110 percent every game.”

Burrell learned that lesson the hard way last season when it lost to section rival Freeport despite leading, 6-0, entering the final inning. And the Bucs have run into some difficult postseason games, too: All seven of their WPIAL playoff losses since 2011 were decided by four runs or fewer, including four by a single run.

“We’re definitely motivated, especially because three of us have been on varsity all four years,” Coffman said. “I think we’re really just determined to make it farther than we have the last three years.”

Eshbaugh, Burrell’s coach since 2015, is retiring after this season, giving the Bucs some added motivation. He said he considered stepping down after last year but came back for one final run.

He has an experienced group to lead the way, starting with seniors in Coffman, a Gannon recruit, at catcher, Sara Clark at first base, Pitt-Greensburg recruit Kayla Santucci at second base and Cara Fiore in the outfield.

Beyond that, the Bucs can count on experience all over the diamond: infielders Rikki Wyble and Maia Ferra and outfielders Elizabeth Clark and Charlie Confer.

“We’re pretty blessed with what we have coming back,” Eshbaugh said.

The two biggest holes Burrell must fill come at pitcher and shortstop after the graduation of Brittany Dunn and Kelly Nitowski. Sophomore Kylie Karns and freshman Caroline Dynka are looking to replace Dunn, a Pitt-Greensburg recruit, in the pitching circle.

“I’ve caught them both almost every single practice,” Coffman said. “They’re two of the most dedicated girls on the team because they know they have to step up. They’ve been taking such good corrections from our pitching coach Rick Nealer; they do whatever he says. They stay longer than they have to. They’re putting in the extra work.”

Shortstop candidates include Santucci, Ferra and Dynka, and sophomores Mia Horwatt and Amber Bigler also could get playing time in the infield.

“Put it this way: We’re blessed with a deep bench,” Eshbaugh said.

Burrell will compete in Section 1-3A with neighboring rivals Deer Lakes, Freeport and Valley, holdover East Allegheny and newcomer Derry. The Bucs finished second in the section behind Freeport last season, their two losses to the Yellowjackets being their only blemish.

Eshbaugh believes his team has the talent and drive to win the section — Burrell won the title most recently in 2016, when it shared the crown with Deer Lakes — but he knows it takes more than just want-to.

“We haven’t won a game yet. We haven’t even scored a run yet,” Eshbaugh said. “Our pitchers are going to be young. They’re going to be good pitchers, both of them, down the road. … It’s a guessing game right now.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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