New Lower Burrell American Legion team gets rolling

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Sunday, June 9, 2024 | 4:26 PM


The Burrell baseball team rose from the No. 14 seed for the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs to a top-four finish while earning a PIAA tournament berth for the first time since 2010.

The Bucs saw their postseason run end last Monday with a tough 7-3 first-round loss to District 10 champion Fairview at Mercyhurst College.

The extended run from coach Jay Miller’s players meant a delayed start to the return of the Lower Burrell American Legion team to active competition.

Numerous players in the Burrell program, including 10 on the varsity playoff roster, are sticking together for the summer season in the District 31 league with teams from Westmoreland, Indiana and Somerset counties.

When one door closed, another one opened.

“It was great watching the Burrell high school team do so well and experience that success in the playoffs,” Lower Burrell manager Steve Scheftic said.

Miller will serve as an assistant coach, helping keep the tie strong with baseball from the summer to the fall and winter and back to the spring season.

“The goal we had whenever I took the (high school) position was to unify the summer program, the fall program, and come up with a winter training program that would be effective, too. You already are seeing how it is carrying over from the high school season to the summer. It was exciting to see it all come together.”

Scheftic said Miller played a big role in getting the Lower Burrell team up and running.

“He was coaching at Bushy Run (Legion), and he identified an opening available in the (District 31) league. It is big for Lower Burrell to get back into it with its tradition and history. I was very excited, for sure.

“We filed paperwork with District 31, and then we worked with Butch Rupert, who is the commander at Post 868. We had to get approved for the funding from them as well. We really appreciate and are grateful for their generosity in supporting the program. A lot of things were done at the 11th hour, but we got it done.”

Lower Burrell had a Junior Legion team, according to Scheftic, as recently as 2017, but the lack of a Senior American Legion team went back further.

“It’s been a good while. But it’s always been a good program,” he said. “Everyone is excited to have it back again.”

Scheftic said the players are ready for a lot of baseball over the next four to five weeks. Starting with last Wednesday’s opening game against Hempfield East, Friday’s contest with Latrobe, and Sunday’s matchup against Trafford, Lower Burrell is slated to play its 19 games over the span of 28 days.

“The guys are looking forward to these games, and they understand they will be playing a lot of baseball,” Scheftic said.

“I think it is the best atmosphere to play baseball. Hitting every day helps with consistency. We have 10 or 11 who are willing and able to pitch. When you are playing four or five games a week, they are all going to get to pitch. They know they will have the opportunity to contribute to a winning team.”

District 31 is made up of two divisions with seven teams in each. Lower Burrell will play each team in its division — Hempfield East, Trafford, Murrysville, Yough, Mt. Pleasant and Bushy Run — twice with one game against the teams in the other division: Young Township, Blairsville, Latrobe, Derry, Unity, Somerset and Homer City.

“This is a nice high level of baseball that they are all able to experience,” Scheftic said.

“Our first two games have already shown just how tough the league is. Our goal is to be competitive and hope for a push to the playoffs and have the players from the high school team continue to see the success they had from the spring season.”

Lower Burrell needed eight innings, but it defeated Hempfield East, 3-2, in the opener.

Brayden Mell scored on a play at the plate in the bottom of the eighth as he came home on a single from Ryan Scheftic.

“We really couldn’t afford to make any mistakes, and we played really well,” Scheftic said. “They brought a really good game to us. Every single pitch, we had to be prepared.”

Latrobe got the better of Lower Burrell on Friday, 7-0.

“That’s baseball,” coach Scheftic said. “They brought a pitcher who had his best, and we just really couldn’t do a lot at the plate.

“But we were really thankful for Mother Nature to give us good weather to get in both of those games. With the dense schedule, we can’t afford to have rainouts squeeze the schedule any further.”

Ryan Scheftic is the lone 2023 graduate on the Lower Burrell team.

He enjoyed a strong first season on the Division III club team at Carnegie Mellon and hopes to continue his strong play into the summer.

“He had a really nice season. He played in the fall and the spring,” Coach Scheftic said. “He mostly caught, played every game and was one of the team hitting leaders. He had a lot of fun. It was nice to see him grow and take that next step.

“Ryan is very excited to be able to reunite with a lot of his Burrell teammates. He’s played with most of them for 10 to 15 years.”

Lower Burrell’s coverage area to attract eligible players includes communities in the school districts of Valley, Freeport, Riverview and part of Kiski Area.

Jonathan Walker comes to the Lower Burrell team after playing his junior high school season at Kiski Area.

“With this team, we hope to not only grow baseball in the Lower Burrell area but also in a wider regional community here,” Scheftic said.

“We look forward to having both a junior and a senior legion team to help develop players at the junior level so they are able to play at a high level when they get to the senior team.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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