Burrell softball ready to turn page after another successful season

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Sunday, June 25, 2023 | 4:48 PM


It’s been three weeks since the Burrell softball team bowed out in the first round of the PIAA Class 3A playoffs with a 1-0 loss to eventual state runner-up Juniata.

But the players and coaches, sophomore Braelyn Jones said, have been able to take a step back and appreciate their accomplishments this spring, including a 14-7 record and second-place finish in Section 1. The Bucs entered the season as the hunted after their 2022 run to the state quarterfinals.

“We were upset that we didn’t win (against Juniata), but we were upbeat on the bus ride home because we knew we worked hard and had another great season,” said Jones, whose team placed third in the WPIAL and qualified for the PIAA tournament for the second year in a row after an eight-year hiatus.

“We were proud with where we got to, and we had some good wins in the WPIAL playoffs. We’re excited about next year.”

The District 6 champion Indians, three days after edging the Bucs, scored a 6-1 win over WPIAL champion Avonworth as Juniata’s Liz Gaisior, a junior Fordham commit, struck out 15 and allowed just three hits and one walk.

“It was exciting to see Juniata get to the title game because we only lost to them 1-0,” Jones said. “Obviously, we wish we would’ve won our game with them. It (stunk) we couldn’t get our bats going more. But we were very competitive. I think it showed that we could’ve gone just as far as they did.”

Burrell, whose three section losses came to Avonworth (4-1 and 2-1) and Freeport (3-2), earned the No. 4 seed for the WPIAL playoffs and upended Mt. Pleasant, 4-1, in the first round before topping No. 5 Mohawk, 5-1, in the quarterfinals.

The quarterfinal win clinched a spot in the PIAA playoffs as all four semifinalists advanced.

The Bucs saw their hopes for a WPIAL title dashed with a 3-0 loss to Avonworth, but they bounced back in convincing fashion with a 3-0 victory over No. 3 Waynesburg Central in the third-place game.

“We competed and went toe-to-toe with very good teams all year long,” Burrell coach Rick Nealer said.

“We expected to get a lot of teams’ best game. We relished the opportunity to play in and win close games. We played very well in the game against Juniata. It would’ve been nice to go further, but the girls know they were one of the best 3A teams in the state and could compete with anybody.”

Last year, Burrell lost just one senior to graduation, Caroline Dynka.

This year, that number will quadruple to four as Katie Armstrong, Alanna Miller, Abbie Larko and Cassidy Novak bid farewell to the program.

“We’re going to miss those seniors dearly,” Nealer said.

“They were ideal role models for the younger players who came in and played key roles for us right away the past two years. They led by example on and off the field.”

The group was robbed of their freshman seasons because of the covid pandemic, but they came back the next year as sophomores and contributed to a trip to the WPIAL Class 4A quarterfinals and set the stage for their final two seasons with the Bucs.

The group went a combined 36-17 in their three seasons.

Armstrong, a Gannon commit, set the pace from the pitching circle. This year, she struck out 269, walked just 24 in 131 innings and posted a 1.12 earned-run average.

She finished her three-year career with 689 strikeouts.

Armstrong also batted a team-best .377 with six doubles and 16 RBIs.

Novak and Miller collected eight RBIs apiece.

“We had such great role models in the seniors the past two seasons,” said Jones, a member of the Pittsburgh Lady Roadrunners club team this summer.

“We knew we could turn to any one of them for advice or if we had a question.”

Burrell will get back at it in the fall with workouts, weight room sessions and tournaments to gear up for next season.

Jones, who led the team with 23 RBIs and was named a Valley News Dispatch first-team all-star, is one of six regular starters set to return. That includes fellow Valley News Dispatch first-teamer Pyper Ferres, a sophomore shortstop who hit .322 with nine doubles, two home runs and 12 RBIs.

Ferres doubled for Burrell’s lone hit against Juniata.

Sophomore catcher Bella Stewart batted .283 with three doubles, a home run and eight RBIs.

Fellow sophomore Sabrina Hoover, who missed much of her freshman year because of injury, came back strong and batted .259 with 10 RBIs.

She had her team’s only hit in the WPIAL semifinal setback to Avonworth.

“The cupboard is not bare at all,” Nealer said.

“Our freshmen and sophomores played very well this year, and they’re very talented. With the kids coming in next year, we should have a varsity and a JV team for the first time in a long time. It’s a great thing to think about because last year, we had trouble at times getting nine or 10 on the field. The talent is there. As long as we continue to work hard and everyone gives 100 percent, we’ll be fine.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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