New look, same goals for Burrell softball team
Saturday, March 7, 2020 | 7:36 PM
It’s a new season with a new coach, new uniforms and a newly revamped home field.
About the only thing that’s not new for Burrell is a 14-year streak of making the WPIAL playoffs.
After many years as a well-regarded assistant coach at Valley and Burrell, Rick Nealer has embarked on his first head coaching job.
He was named early last fall after former coach Brian Eshbaugh stepped down. Eshbaugh had announced 2019 would be his final run with the Bucs before the season began.
Burrell won the Section 1-3A title last season with a 9-1 record and won its final 12 regular-season games.
Burrell, however, struggled in the opening round of the WPIAL playoffs as Keystone Oaks slugged its way to a 14-1 victory.
Nealer had been the team’s pitching coach the past four seasons.
“It’s very exciting,” Nealer said several days into the official practice season. “The girls have been very receptive. We had a winter conditioning program that was well attended. Kids are all in.”
The coaching change doesn’t appear to be a big deal for the athletes, either.
“I really don’t think it’s a big deal,” senior third baseman Maia Ferra said. “We have some big holes to fill.”
The Bucs lost four starters from last year’s 13-3 squad.
The biggest hole to fill is behind the plate, where all-state catcher Lea Coffman graduated and is playing at Gannon. All-section first baseman Sara Clark also must be replaced.
Burrell’s lengthy playoff run has been fueled by stellar pitching, and this season should be no different as junior Kylie Karns and sophomore Caroline Dynka are back. Freshman pitcher Katie Armstrong is waiting in the wings.
Also returning for the Bucs are shortstop Rikki Wyble and infielder/outfielders Elizabeth Clark and Charlie Confer.
Still, the main focus is keeping the playoff streak going.
“We’re pretty confident that we can keep going in the playoffs,” Confer said. “If we keep playing our game like we usually do, it should be no problem getting back to the playoffs.”
Burrell is set to unveil its revamped Bon Air Elementary School field March 26 when the Bucs host Yough.
“The field is beautiful, and the kids are very excited,” said Nealer:
Added Ferra: “I can’t wait to get on the field. I think we’re sick of being in the gym.”
Said Confer: “The right field is now level. Before, you couldn’t even see the batter’s feet. The drainage is better, so we can probably get more games in.”
Section play gets underway April 1 with a home game against Freeport, perennially a section contender.
“The section is so loaded,” Nealer said. “Between Freeport and Deer Lakes, and Valley’s going to have a very good team. It’s going to be a very tough section.”
Nealer knows continuing the playoff streak isn’t a given.
“We have got to get through our section,” he said. “We have to go out and earn our stripes. Just go out and compete.”
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