Burrell’s Katie Armstrong repeats as Valley News Dispatch Softball Player of Year

Saturday, June 24, 2023 | 8:11 PM

2023 Valley News Dispatch Softball All-Stars

Player of the Year

Katie Armstrong

Burrell, Sr., P

Katie Armstrong capped her high school career June 5 in the rolling hills of Central Pennsylvania.

She and her Burrell softball teammates battled District 6 champion Juniata in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.

Armstrong surrendered just three hits and two walks while striking out 11 in a 1-0 loss to the eventual PIAA-runner-up Indians.

The one run Juniata scored that day was unearned.

In the next round, Juniata shut out Burrell’s section foe and WPIAL champion Avonworth, 6-0.

It was another standout season for the Gannon commit who helped lead the Bucs to a third-place finish in WPIAL Class 3A and a trip to states for the second year in a row after an eight-year hiatus.

Her numbers in the circle and at the plate tell a well-rounded story, and the ending to that story is her repeat selection as the Valley News Dispatch Softball Player of the Year.

“I just kept working on all my pitches, and every game I felt I got a little better and stronger each time,” said Armstrong, who threw every pitch for Burrell this season and ended up with a 1.21 earned-run average (21 earned runs in 131 innings).

“I also pitched with confidence because I knew I had such a great defense behind me making plays.”

Armstrong walked just 24 batters and struck out 269, giving her 689 strikeouts for her three-year career.

She fanned 10 or more 17 times, and had three nine-strikeout games. She delivered a season-best 18 punchouts in a one-hit shutout of Moore Catholic (N.Y.) in Myrtle Beach in early April.

Armstrong then struck out 16 while scattering three hits in a 5-1 WPIAL quarterfinal victory over Mohawk which clinched the PIAA playoff berth.

She racked up 63 strikeouts in 33 postseason innings.

Who knows where that career-strikeout total would be if her freshman season in 2020 wasn’t taken away because of the covid pandemic?

Her freshman year showed much potential when she struck out 17 batters in a scrimmage game against Shaler before the sports world shut down.

“Katie was a rock for us, probably one of the best pitchers to ever play at Burrell,” Burrell coach Rock Nealer said.

“She was definitely one of the best in the WPIAL the past three seasons. No one moved the ball better than Katie. She always kept hitters guessing. After the Juniata game, their players and coaches commented that they hadn’t seen a pitcher like that, and they had a very good pitcher as well.”

Nealer said the team also will miss her leadership.

What might get overshadowed by her pitching prowess is the way Armstrong also swung the bat this season.

She led the Bucs with a .377 average (23 for 61) and added six doubles and 16 runs batted in. She struck out just six times in 72 plate appearances.

Armstrong said she will miss working with her catchers — Gabby Britton (2021) and Bella Stewart the past two years — and will also miss the bus rides, the bonding off the field and the wins and big moments between the white lines.

As she gets ready to begin her collegiate career, she said she’s also excited for what the future holds for the Burrell team, which returns six starters and has other young players set to contend for open opportunities.

“Gannon got a special player in Katie,” Nealer said. “I know she will work hard to be well prepared. She has all the pitches you need to be successful in college. I know she will do great things for Gannon just like she did for us.”

First team

Anna Cibik

Sr., P/IF, Leechburg

One of two seniors on the Blue Devils roster, Cibik helped the team earn a spot in the playoffs for a WPIAL-record 36th season in a row. Cibik, a first-time VND all-star, batted .489 (23 for 47) with eight doubles, two triples, five home runs, 19 runs batted in and eight runs scored. She struck out only three times in 56 plate appearances. Cibik also pitched 89 innings and produced a 4.01 earned-run average while striking out 114 and walking 29.

Mackenzie Favero

Sr., IF, Kiski Area

Favero fashioned one of the top batting averages in the Alle-Kiski Valley. She helped pace the Cavaliers’ offense with a .478 average (22 of 46) with 13 RBIs and 12 runs scored. Patience at the plate paid off with nine walks drawn, and she struck out just six times in 55 plate appearances. Favero, a second-team VND all-star last year as a junior, earned Section 2-5A second-team laurels among a deep pool of section infielders.

Pyper Ferres

So., SS, Burrell

A tall, power hitter in the middle of the Bucs lineup, Ferres returns to the VND first team. She remained solid in the infield after a move to shortstop from her second-base spot as a freshman. Ferres batted .322 (19 of 59) with nine doubles, two home runs and 12 RBIs. She also scored a team-high 23 runs, and drew 11 walks. Ferres collected the only Burrell hit — a sharply hit double to the wall in right-center — against Fordham commit Liz Gaisior in a tough 1-0 loss to the eventual PIAA runner-up Juniata in the first round of the state playoffs.

Braelyn Jones

So., 3B, Burrell

Jones followed up her varsity debut in 2022 with another solid season this spring to help the Bucs finish third in WPIAL Class 3A and earn their second straight state tournament appearance after an eight-season playoff hiatus. She hit .317 (20 of 63) and slugged .540 with a double, two triples, three home runs and a team-high 23 runs batted in. She scored 13 runs, third on the team behind Ferres and Armstrong.

Maddie Kee

Jr., P, Deer Lakes

Kee followed up her breakout softball season with another strong effort at the plate and in the pitching circle. An All-Section 1-3A performer and now two-time VND first-team selection, Kee led the Lancers with a .462 average (24 of 52), seven doubles, two home runs and 13 RBIs. She added 82 1/3 innings in the circle and fashioned a 10-5 record and a 2.64 earned-run average (31 earned runs allowed). She struck out 127 batters and walked 30.

Makenzie Lang

Sr., IF/P/DP, Plum

A VND first-team selection for the third year in a row, Lang again was a problem for opposing pitchers. She batted .455 (20 for 44) with four doubles, six home runs, 27 RBIs and 13 runs scored. She drew 15 walks and struck out only seven times in 60 plate appearances. Lang also earned Section 1-5A honors as an infielder and hitter.

Taylor Lorish

Sr., OF, Plum

Along with Lang, Lorish made the most of her opportunities at the plate to help the Mustangs average 9.3 runs a game over 17 games in their run to the WPIAL Class 5A playoffs. Also, a section first-team all-star, Lorish batted .472 (25 of 53) with four doubles, two home runs and 15 RBIs. She also scored 14 runs, and her 25 hits tied for second on the team.

Karli Mazak

Sr., OF, Leechburg

In its Section 3-A battles with the likes of WPIAL semifinalist Frazier, as well as playoff qualifiers Jeannette and Monessen, Mazak delivered as a hitter on the field and as a leader on and off the field for the youthful Blue Devils. Mazak led Leechburg with a .518 average (29 of 56) with seven doubles, six triples and a home run. She drove in 15 runs and scored a team-leading 25. She struck out just five times in 63 plate appearances.

Carrah Scardina

So., SS/CF, Highlands

Despite the Golden Rams’ tough season in terms of wins and losses, Scardina, a versatile defender who was comfortable both at her main shortstop position and in the outfield when called upon, she was strong at the plate and led the team in batting at .483 (28 of 58) with 11 doubles, two triples, a home run and a team-best 27 RBIs. She also scored 15 runs.

Leah Taliani

Sr., SS, Valley

A veteran presence for the Vikings in their run to a WPIAL playoff spot, Taliani was a solid defender at shortstop and provided offense with a team-best .479 batting average. She collected five doubles and drove in eight runs. The all-section pick, who plays club softball with the Pittsburgh Predators Premier 16U, also was a threat every time she reached base as she finished the season with 11 stolen bases.

Second team

Kassidy Cambal, Sr., C, Highlands

Morgan Dunkel, Sr., P, Valley

April Earnest, Sr., P/OF, Apollo-Ridge

Delanie Kaiser, Sr., OF, Deer Lakes

Jordan Kirkwood, Sr., C, Valley

Dani Pici, So., C, Plum

Mackenzie Rainey, Jr., OF, Kiski Area

Sydney Selker, Jr., P/OF, Freeport

Riley Stephans, Fr., P, Plum

Bella Stewart, So., C, Burrell

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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