Late surge lifts No. 7 Burrell past McGuffey in opening round of WPIAL playoffs

Wednesday, May 15, 2019 | 7:25 PM

Burrell leaned on ace Luke Virag over the first handful of innings of its WPIAL playoff opener as the Bucs’ offense felt out an unfamiliar pitcher.

The support came a bit late, but it came in bunches.

No. 7 Burrell scored nine runs over its final two times to the plate, breaking open a close game, and the Bucs rolled to a 10-2 victory over No. 10 McGuffey in a Class 3A first-round baseball game Wednesday afternoon at West Mifflin.

“I think we finally got more comfortable after seeing him twice through the lineup,” Burrell coach Mark Spohn said of McGuffey starter Ryan Sullivan, whom the Bucs chased from the game during a five-run fifth inning. “Third time through, we were getting much better swings, and he was losing a little crispness.”

Burrell (12-4) scored five runs in the bottom of the fifth and four more in the sixth to turn a 1-0 lead into a rout. The Bucs advanced to the quarterfinals for the third consecutive season, where they will face No. 2 Hopewell (13-5) on Monday at a site and time to be determined.

“We can fix a couple things up, keep the errors down a little bit, but I think we did well,” said Virag, a senior. “I think we hit the ball, played well overall.”

Virag was pitching in the postseason for the third consecutive year, and the right-hander showed his experience. He allowed six hits in his complete-game effort, striking out nine, and gave up just a two-run homer by McGuffey’s Seth Burgdolt in the top of the sixth inning.

The senior used his sneaky fastball and a strong curveball to keep McGuffey (10-6) off balance at the plate.

“I kept it low and threw strikes,” Virag said. “I’ve been in there for a couple years, and I played in a couple playoff games and I’m used to it.”

McGuffey, got a strong mound effort from Sullivan, who kept it close through four innings. Burrell’s lone run in that time was an unearned run in the bottom of the second, when Marshall McKallip’s sacrifice fly drove home Tyler Mock after a pair of McGuffey errors.

But the Highlanders, who won just three games last season, couldn’t muster sustained success against Virag and struggled in the field, committing four errors.

“I think the score should have been closer,” McGuffey coach George Linck said. “I’m a little disappointed with some of the mental errors we made by throwing to the wrong base and just some things like that. Obviously, we needed to put the bat on the ball more than we did. We could’ve scored some runs earlier in the game, but I give (Burrell) credit. They’re a good baseball team.”

Burrell took advantage of a tiring Sullivan in the fifth, loading the bases with one out after a pair of hit batters. Mock grounded a single through the left side for two runs, a wild pitch brought another run home and Zach Kerr ripped a two-run double to left to make it 6-0.

McGuffey cut the deficit to four in the top of the sixth on Burgdolt’s one-out homer, but the Highlanders stranded two baserunners.

Burrell added to its advantage with four runs in the bottom of the inning on a McGuffey error, a bases-loaded walk, a bases-loaded hit batter and Kerr’s sacrifice fly.

“It’s a great group of kids,” Spohn said. “They just want to play baseball. I just keep telling them to take it one step at a time, one play at a time, and if we play well, we’ll win.”

Watch this game’s archived video stream broadcast on the TribLive High School Sports Network.

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

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