Burrell wins pitchers’ duel with Neshannock in Class 3A quarterfinals

Monday, May 20, 2024 | 10:17 PM

In their WPIAL Class 3A first-round games, Burrell and Neshannock scored six runs apiece and manufactured runs by stealing bases. The Bucs swiped six, and the Lancers stole five.

In the quarterfinal matchup, neither team had many runners as the top pitcher for each squad was on the mound.

Burrell junior Stephen Hasson tossed seven shutout innings and allowed two hits as the No. 14-seeded Bucs (13-8) shut down No. 11 Neshannock (12-10) by a score of 1-0 at Seneca Valley High School.

“Stevie was on today,” Burrell coach Jay Miller said. “He was spotting his off-speed pitches, throwing his curve for strikes whenever he wanted to, mixing the fastball and even the changeup, just not as much as he could have.

“But when you go seven scoreless, you can’t complain about too much.”

Hasson finished his day with six strikeouts and three walks.

Burrell scored the only run of the game in the top of the fourth when senior center fielder AJ McLafferty singled to right to start the inning.

“I was looking for my pitch. It was a 2-0 count, and I knew he had to come with something in the strike zone,” McLafferty said. “We were talking in the dugout in the previous inning that his slider wasn’t working. He threw me something high and outside, and I took it the other way.”

Trying to manufacture a run, McLafferty swiped second, his 14th steal of the year.

McLafferty avoided disaster two batters later. He was caught in a rundown and looked to be tagged out by junior starting pitcher Jake Rynd, but the umpire said Rynd missed the tag.

“I felt the wind; it was close,” McLafferty said. “He never tagged me. They did a good job in that rundown, but I’ve never got out in a rundown.”

Neshannock coach John Quahliero gently disagreed.

“I thought we had the tag, but we’re not going to blame that,” he said. “We left guys in scoring position, had our chances. We didn’t follow through and execute.”

On the next pitch, McLafferty advanced to third on a balk by Jake Rynd. Two pitches later, McLafferty scored as freshman left fielder Trey Coury singled to center field.

Rynd went seven innings, giving up three hits and striking out nine. He started the day sending down nine straight Burrell hitters before giving up the single to McLafferty.

“Jake’s a bulldog. I knew I had to go with him, there was no question of looking past Burrell,” Quahliero said. “I knew what they were going to bring to the table. He gave me everything, as expected, executed every pitch. Couldn’t ask for anything more out of him today.”

In the bottom of the fourth, Neshannock looked poised to tie the score.

Lancers senior first baseman Giovanni Valentine laced a ball into the deep left-center gap, and McLafferty chased it down for the Bucs. Valentine ended up on third with a triple.

When McLafferty got to the wall, he collapsed and grabbed his right knee. A hush fell over the crowd as the Saint Vincent recruit lay there for five minutes before getting up and walking off under his own power.

Senior Cash Wyble came in for McLafferty and took over in left as Coury moved to center.

After striking out Lancers sophomore Cole Hutchinson and giving up the triple to Valentine, Hasson struck out Rynd.

Neshannock junior center fielder Dom Cubellis stepped up and popped a bloop to shallow left. Wyble came sprinting in and laid out to make the catch.

There was no doubt in Miller’s mind his player would step up.

“Never in panic mode,” Miller said. “It’s always tough when you see a guy go down, but we have a deep team. We have guys who can come in and make plays, both offensively and defensively. Cash made an incredible catch.”

Said Quahliero: “I would have sent Valentine, but he had stopped at second, and they got the ball in quick so I stopped him at third. Plus, I had my three, four and five hitters up. The way the game was going, I thought we would put it in play.”

McLafferty came back later in the top of the sixth inning.

After shutting down the Lancers in the fourth, Hasson faced another difficult situation in the bottom of the sixth.

Freshman second baseman Ryan Cameron walked, and freshman catcher Luca Mezzanotte reached on a fielder’s choice. Hutchinson struck out looking for the second time, and Valentine also got on via a fielder’s choice to load the bases.

“I was getting down in counts, giving them free bases,” Hasson said. “I trusted my defense,. They played pretty sound, made the outs when they were there.”

Hasson was able to get Rynd to pop out to shortstop Dylan McKallip on the first pitch. Cubellis came up and worked a three-two count and was sent down looking on a Hasson breaking ball.

“That was one of my greatest moments,” Hasson said. “I have so much confidence in my curveball today. I just let it rip, and it felt pretty good.”

Burrell advances to play No. 7 Avonworth at 7 p.m. Tuesday at North Allegheny. The Antelopes beat No. 15 East Allegheny, 5-4, earlier in the day.

“It feels good to get a streak going here in the playoffs,” Hasson said. “We’re on to the semis, and let’s see what we can do.”

The Bucs win also clinches a spot in the PIAA playoffs, but Coach Miller isn’t looking too far ahead.

“Still soaking that in,” Miller said. “My focus is on tomorrow and Avonworth. I know if we play our style of baseball, we can compete with anybody. Avonworth played tough when we faced them in the fall league, so we expect a dog fight.”

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