Coffman hopes to lift Burrell to early-season victory against rival Freeport

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Monday, April 1, 2019 | 6:07 PM


Lea Coffman remembers the moment all too well.

Early last season, the Burrell softball team was one inning away from an important section victory over rival Freeport.

The Bucs built a 6-0 lead over the first six innings, and Coffman contributed to the advantage in the big way with four hits, including a two-run homer.

But the visiting Yellowjackets rallied at the Bon Air Elementary field, scoring eight runs in the top of the seventh to wrestle an improbable 8-6 victory from Burrell’s grasp.

“We used that game to push us and help improve ourselves,” said Coffman, now a senior at the core of the Bucs offense and defense. “We just had too many errors in that last inning, and we’ve worked hard every day on our defense and knowing what to do in certain situations. If a mistake is made, you have to brush it off and be ready to make the next play.”

The loss ended up being the difference as Freeport claimed the outright section title at 10-0. The Bucs finished second in the section at 8-2.

Burrell and Freeport meet for the first time this season at 4:15 p.m. Wednesday at Freeport Community Park, and Coffman said she and her teammates are ready.

The Bucs head into the Section 1-3A opener 1-1 overall with a win over Steel Valley and a close loss to Highlands in nonsection play. The Yellowjackets are 1-0 with a 13-2 nonsection triumph over Armstrong.

“With a couple of nonsection games, we were excited to get out and play,” Coffman said. “We learned from those games, and we know what we have to do to beat Freeport and the other teams in our section.”

Coffman said is ready to do her part. Last year, she hit .500 with a team-best five home runs and 22 RBIs as the Bucs reached the WPIAL quarterfinals for the second year in a row.

Defensively, at catcher, her arm has earned her a reputation from opposing runners to be wary when trying to steal a base. For her overall efforts, she earned 2018 Valley News Dispatch all-star honors.

With pitcher Brittany Dunn now a freshman on the softball team at Pitt-Greensburg, sophomore Kylie Karns and freshman Caroline Dynka are being called upon to deliver to opposing batters.

Coffman said making the adjustments to the less-experienced throwers helped give her a broader aspect of the game as she worked to give them the foundation to succeed at the varsity level.

“I was so used to catching Brittany, and now with two new pitchers, I’m learning more about how they approach the game,” she said. “They throw some different pitches than Brittany. They both pitched (against Highlands), and both did very well. There were a couple of times I called a timeout to slow down the pace a little and calm them down. They are pretty excited to be out there.”

Coffman’s leadership is appreciated among the Burrell coaches.

“She is like another coach on the field,” Bucs assistant Rick Nealer said. “No matter who is pitching, she knows the right things to say at the right time. She knows the situations and when to make adjustments on the field and also at the plate. She’s constantly working on her game. She’s one of the first girls at practice and one of the last ones to leave.”

Last Thursday against Highlands, Coffman struck out in her first plate appearance. But she came back the next time and delivered a home run.

“She is so good at making adjustments,” Burrell head coach Brian Eshbaugh said. “You don’t get the best of her too many times.”

Coffman wants to relish the remaining time she has as a high school softball player and the time she has with her Bucs teammates. But an opportunity a couple of months from now at Gannon also fuels her excitement.

The Golden Knights are the defending Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference champions. They capped a 32-15 overall record in 2018 by winning the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional and advanced to the Super Regional where they fell to conference rival West Chester.

Gannon is 12-7 overall and 1-1 in PSAC play this spring. It has won nine of its past 10 games.

“I was looking at schools in Division I, II and III, and I just knew that Gannon was the place for me,” Coffman said. “I already knew some of the players on the team who went to Deer Lakes (Rachel Tanilli, Maria Taliani). It’s just such a good group of girls. Knowing it’s already such a strong program, I just want to go in and contribute any way I can.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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