Burrell softball team handles Mt. Pleasant in first round

Tuesday, May 16, 2023 | 9:44 PM

With the tight confines of Plum’s softball field, home run hitters often can have a blast sending bombs over the short fence.

But the dimensions can mess with a pitcher. One false move, one flinch and the ball is gone.

“I love playing here because of the turf,” Burrell senior pitcher Katie Armstrong said. “But with the small field, the faster it comes in, the faster it goes out.”

Armstrong worked her way through Mt. Pleasant’s lineup, keeping the ball in the yard and taking full command her pitches as No. 4 seed Burrell beat the No. 13 Vikings, 4-1, in a WPIAL Class 3A first-round game Tuesday.

Armstrong struck out 15, upping her season total to 221, as the Buccaneers (12-5) moved into the quarterfinals Thursday to play No. 5 Mohawk (11-4) or No. 12 South Park (11-5).

Burrell did benefit from the long ball at the diminutive venue — 175 feet to center, 180 down the lines — with three home runs as the Bucs look to make another playoff run.

They reached the semifinals last year before a charge to the PIAA quarterfinals.

“Our whole team, we were all in today,” said Armstrong, who did not issue a walk and scattered six hits against perennial contender Mt. Pleasant (11-9).

“She was good today,” Mt. Pleasant coach Chris Brunson said of Armstrong. “But we needed better execution of our approach. I thought if they scored three runs, we had a chance. We just didn’t do enough offensively.”

Three sophomores homered, including Bella Stewart, Pyper Ferres and Braelyn Jones, all on solo shots.

Stewart’s came in the first, to deep center, to give the Bucs a 1-0 lead. Ferres and Jones went back-to-back in the fourth to put the Bucs ahead 4-1.

“It felt good to get a little wiggle room,” Armstrong said of the lead.

In between, freshman Jenna Morrison ripped an RBI single to center for a 2-0 advantage in the second before Mt. Pleasant cut it to 2-1 in the third on a run-scoring double by senior Krista Brunson, who went 3 for 3 with two doubles.

The home runs burst Mt. Pleasant’s bubble.

“I don’t think the WPIAL should have playoff games in 175-foot fields,” Chris Brunson said. “These kids work hard all year on regulation fields, and their season is decided on a Little League field. You can make a good pitch, and the hitter makes contact and hits it out, almost on accident. That’s not why we lost, it’s just something to look at.”

Burrell left the bases loaded in the fourth, but Armstrong and the Bucs defense kept the Vikings quiet the rest of the way.

Mt. Pleasant got a leadoff hit in the fifth and sixth, and also had a runner on in the seventh, but could not produce a run.

The middle of the Vikings’ order — hitters 3 through 6 — were a combined 0 for 12 with 10 Ks.

Burrell had six hits off of Vikings senior pitcher Sophia Smithnosky.

Mt. Pleasant has made the WPIAL playoffs 18 straight times.

“This group appreciated every win,” Chris Brunson said. “There are ebbs and flows to high school sports. It’s hard to maintain that high level and, as time goes on, you kind of take it for granted what you have done (in the past). We’re going to go into the summer and challenge ourselves.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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