Future looks bright for Burrell softball

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Saturday, June 11, 2022 | 5:01 PM


A youthful lineup this spring didn’t stop the Burrell softball team from reaching the playoffs for the 17th season in a row, and when the Bucs arrived in the postseason, they made the most of their opportunity.

Coach Rick Nealer said the team, which faced lower-than-usual roster numbers this year, rose to the occasion and jelled as the season progressed to claim another section championship before finishing third in WPIAL Class 4A and reaching the final eight in the state.

“I was happy with the way things turned out,” Nealer said. “When we started the year, we were concerned with whether or not we would have enough players for some games. But we picked up a few players, and (freshman) Sabrina (Hoover) got healthy and was able to come back. With who is coming back — we only lose one — and who is coming up, the future is bright.”

Burrell’s run ended Thursday with a 3-0 loss to undefeated and defending state champion Beaver Area at Mars. Virginia Tech recruit Payton List handcuffed the Bucs hitters, striking out 20 and allowing just one hit.

“List is a fantastic pitcher and overall player,” Nealer said. “But when the ball was on the plate, our girls were fouling it off and were on to it. It was a tough game, and the run ended short of where we wanted to go, but the girls battled tough in the game just like they did all year.”

Burrell finished 14-3 reached the PIAA playoffs for the first time since 2011 when it won its second WPIAL championship and made the state semifinals.

The Bucs finished the regular season 11-1 overall and 9-1 in Section 1 en route to earning the No. 3 seed for the WPIAL tournament.

Burrell outlasted Belle Vernon, 1-0, in 11 innings in the quarterfinals before losing to No. 2 Elizabeth Forward, 2-1, in the semifinals.

The Bucs bounced back in the third-place game with a 3-1 win over Montour to clinch its trip to states.

Katie Armstrong broke out in the pitching circle last year as a sophomore, and she raised her game this year.

She finished the season with 257 strikeouts, 13 walks and five earned runs allowed in 120 innings. She struck out 82 batters in five postseason games, including 17 with only one hit allowed in the Bucs’ 6-0 PIAA first-round win over District 10 champion Villa Maria Academy at Penn State-Behrend.

Armstrong has 420 career strikeouts.

“Consistent is a word that best describes her,” Nealer said. “She doesn’t get rattled. If she does, she doesn’t show it, and that is a calming presence to the other players. The girls were strong defensively behind her because they wanted to make plays for her. She was locked in, battled tough and really opened some eyes to her ability. It’s a great feeling to know she will be back for us next year.”

Armstrong will form a senior nucleus next year with returning starters in Alanna Miller (center field), Cassidy Novak (first base) and Abby Larko (left field).

Nealer said the shoes of lone senior Caroline Dynka will be tough to fill.

Dynka saw time in the pitching circle as a freshman and also made her presence felt in the infield.

Nealer said she was a stalwart defensively at short this season and also provided a spark in the leadoff spot in the lineup.

Dynka went 3 for 4 with two runs scored in the win over Villa Maria.

“We’re going to miss her play on the field and her leadership,” Nealer said. “She covered a lot of ground at short, and she had a canon for an arm. Hopefully, we have some good competition to fill that position.”

Five freshmen — Hoover, along with catcher Bella Stewart, second baseman Pyper Ferres, third baseman Bray Jones, and outfielder Rae Seibert — picked up valuable experience as starters.

“Early on, we kept telling them it’s a grind, and that they needed to do several things routinely to stay in shape mentally and physically,” Nealer said. “As it got deeper into the season, they were more and more comfortable. They were focused on what they needed to do to help the team win.”

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

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