Deep, experienced pitching staff has Burrell baseball optimistic

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Saturday, March 9, 2019 | 6:58 PM


Success in high school baseball can become an arms race, and Burrell believes it has plenty of firepower.

With three top starters returning, and plenty more in relief, the Bucs — a staple of the WPIAL playoffs over the last two decades — think they possess the talent and depth to contend for a WPIAL championship.

“Definitely we’re looking at a WPIAL championship,” said senior catcher Tyler Mock, the player who sees more of the Bucs’ pitchers than anybody. “I’m not afraid to say that. We’re not there yet, but I think if we keep working the way we are now, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have that goal.”

Burrell, which has qualified for the playoffs in 19 of coach Mark Spohn’s 20 years, last season advanced to the WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinals for a second straight year before falling on a walkoff double against South Side Beaver.

The Bucs last made the semifinals in 2010, the year they finished as WPIAL runner-up.

“We have basically 90 percent of our people coming back,” senior Luke Virag said. “We’re just hoping to go further on. We’re all getting stronger and better.”

The experience begins in the pitching staff.

Virag tops the rotation after a junior season in which he went 7-1 with 48 strikeouts, helping Burrell earn a share of the section title with Valley.

Experienced junior left-handed pitchers Tanner Spohn and Zach Miller slot in behind Virag, with junior Jack Henderson and senior Eli Ferres, a transfer from Valley, available to pitch as well.

“It’s going to be a huge strength for us,” Virag said. “We have multiple pitchers. We know we’ve got at least three starting pitchers and guys that will be able to come in when we need them to.

“It’s going to save our arms, instead of trying to force us to throw so many pitches.”

Mock said each pitcher provides something different, and the pitching has a hidden benefit, too: It helps the Bucs’ hitters.

“When the kids get older, they get more comfortable,” Mark Spohn said. “And our kids are throwing against them, so they’re facing quality kids. They’re going to be used to it.”

Last season, Burrell got timely hits, particularly in crucial section victories over Valley and Steel Valley. This season, the Bucs are seeking consistency at the plate.

“It’s a work in progress,” Mock said. “Last year, we had a lot of close games where it would just come up to one kid stepping up and getting a big hit or something like that. This year, we’re definitely trying to get everyone, one through nine, to be able to consistently pull through and get a hit where it’s needed.”

In addition to Mock, senior Zach Kerr can play catcher or designated hitter. Experience dots the infield with Virag, senior Marshall McKallip, Henderson and Ferres, with Jimmy Kuniak and Trent Valovchik also available.

Tanner Spohn, three-sport athlete Seth Fischbach, Luke Fisher, Jeremy Stirland and Colby Christie lead the way for Burrell in the outfield.

“It’s doing little simple things, like being a good teammate, not worrying about if they’re not playing,” Mark Spohn said. “What you do with it early on is big.”

Burrell’s section was fortified with the additions of Deer Lakes and Freeport, which both dropped from Class 4A. Those teams join holdovers East Allegheny, South Allegheny, Steel Valley and Valley. Shady Side Academy moved to a different section.

“I feel we have a really good shot of doing some damage this year,” Mock said. “I know we have really high goals set. Where we’re at right now, I think we have a lot more work to do, but I think that we can do really well this year.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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