No. 2 Freeport edges No. 3 Burrell baseball in early showdown

Wednesday, April 3, 2019 | 7:54 PM

Freeport coach Ed Carr tried to downplay the significance of Wednesday’s Section 1-3A opener against Burrell to his baseball team, but the message didn’t exactly sink in. Not with both teams eyeing a section championship, and not with the emotions that ran high in both dugouts for much of the afternoon.

The Yellowjackets ended up happy. Zach Allen’s go-ahead, opposite-field double lifted Class 3A No. 2 Freeport to a 4-3 win over No. 3 Burrell in a back-and-forth game at Freeport Community Park.

“It’s very important for us because coming into the season, they were predicted to win the section, and coming out here with a win today was very big for us,” said Allen, who doubled twice, scored two runs and drove in one.

“When they had their energy, we had it right back. We never gave up.”

Carr calls Allen Freeport’s energy leader, and he provided it with his sixth-inning double, which gave Freeport (3-1) the lead for good after Burrell rallied from deficits of 2-0 and 3-2 to tie the score twice.

The two schools are longtime rivals in other sports, but Wednesday represented their first meeting since Freeport dropped from Class 4A to 3A this season. Both teams are among top contenders for the WPIAL title.

“Every time we play Burrell, just like Highlands, it’s competitive,” said Freeport’s Jarrett Heilman, who struck out 10 to earn the win. “It was great to come out, show up. We played a solid game all-around.

“What I liked most is that they were picked to win our section, and we went up one game on them. We have a nice lead to start off the year. I’ve played against them growing up in our Pony Leagues, Little Leagues. We played them in tournaments, and it’s always been a good game.”

In a matchup of aces, Heilman and Burrell’s Luke Virag lived up to their billing: Heilman didn’t walk a batter, exiting after reaching 100 pitches after 623 innings. Of the three runs he allowed, only one was earned. Virag pitched six innings, allowing six hits and four runs — one earned — and struck out five.

While the Yellowjackets savored the win, Burrell (2-1) left steaming over some calls that helped lead to Freeport’s first two runs.

The sequence began with one out and Allen on first base in the bottom of the second inning. Freeport’s Joseph Hotalski hit a ground ball toward the middle of the infield that struck the field umpire, who immediately called the play dead and both runners safe.

The next batter, Garrett Ben, lined out to Burrell second baseman Trent Valovchik. Valovchik attempted to double Hotalski off first base, but his throw struck Hotalski in the helmet and went into the dugout, prompting the umpire to rule a two-base error and award Allen a run. Josh Tirdel followed with an RBI double to make it 2-0.

Burrell coach Mark Spohn argued at length with the field umpire after the two-base error call and was ordered to remain in the dugout for the rest of the game.

“That was a pure double-play ball, and they don’t score that inning,” Spohn said. “He wouldn’t give me an explanation (on the two-base error). The unacceptable part is not being able to get out of the way of the baseball. It was a two-hopper.”

Burrell tied the score on Valovchik’s two-out, two-run single in the top of the fourth, but Freeport retook the lead in the bottom of the inning after pulling off a delayed double steal. Allen raced home as Hotalski got caught in a rundown.

“They had the better of the breaks,” Spohn said. “They kind of tricked us into that. We had a play set up and they delay stealed. … But, hey, we’ll learn from it.”

Jack Henderson scored on a passed ball with two outs in the top of the sixth to tie the score again for Burrell. Marshall McKallip advanced to third on the play with the go-ahead run, but Heilman retired Valovchik on a groundout to shortstop to end the inning.

“He’s a bulldog,” Carr said of Heilman, who has 23 strikeouts in 1313 innings this season. “He wants the ball. He has confidence in his stuff and believes in himself, and the kids believe in him when he’s out there.”

After Allen’s double put Freeport ahead, Burrell put runners on first and second with two outs in the seventh. But with Heilman out of the game, Yellowjackets closer Bradyn Clark knocked down Eli Ferres’ comebacker and threw to first to end the game.

“You had a little bit of everything today,” Carr said. “It wasn’t the cleanest game, but it was definitely emotional on both sides. That was one of the teams that we thought was one of the top teams in the WPIAL. We knew we had to play hard to stay with them.”

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

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