Quartet of A-K Valley softball teams awarded 1st-round bye in playoffs

Thursday, May 9, 2019 | 7:07 PM

The release of the WPIAL softball playoff brackets Thursday brought some welcome news to Burrell.

The Bucs, fresh off their first outright section title since 2011, received the reward of the No. 3 seed in the Class 3A field. The first-round bye that came with it held a logistical importance.

“The bye is fantastic right now because my team just came down with a virus,” Burrell coach Brian Eshbaugh explained Thursday afternoon. “I had four out (Wednesday), all sick, and I have a couple out today, still. So that’s a plus that it doesn’t look like we’ll play (right away).”

First-round byes were pretty contagious for Alle-Kiski Valley’s softball playoff qualifiers, as four teams received them: Plum with the No. 2 seed in Class 5A, Knoch with the No. 3 seed in 4A, Burrell with the No. 3 seed in 3A and Leechburg with the No. 2 seed in A.

“I love the idea that we’re the No. 2 seed,” Plum coach Phil DiLonardo said. “I didn’t expect it, to be honest with you, but I’m glad it’s where we’re at. It makes your road just a little bit easier.”

The four teams that received the byes bring a variety of storylines: Leechburg is making its 33rd consecutive WPIAL playoff appearance, a record total, while Burrell is back for the 14th straight year and Knoch for the sixth in a row. Plum missed the postseason last season, snapping a nine-year streak.

The quartet of teams with byes won’t play until May 20, the day of the WPIAL quarterfinals in all classes but 6A.

“We’ll give them a couple days off, then we’ll probably hit it hard next week,” Knoch coach Gary Coe said. “It’d be nice to have another (exhibition) game, but we’ll see what the weather has in store for us.”

Nine different A-K Valley teams qualified for the playoffs, which begin Tuesday in classes A, 3A and 5A and Wednesday in classes 2A, 4A and 6A.

Leechburg (15-1) advanced to the WPIAL semifinals and consolation games each of the past two seasons, ultimately falling one game short of the PIAA playoffs. Fresh off their third consecutive Section 3-A title, they were slotted behind just top-seeded West Greene and will play either No. 7 Mapletown or No. 10 Jeannette in the Class A quarterfinals.

While Leechburg holds its long postseason streak, Springdale earned its way into the Class A field and will make its first playoff appearance since 2000. The Dynamos (12-3) received the No. 6 seed in A and will play No. 11 Quigley Catholic in the first round at 3 p.m. Tuesday at Shaler.

Burrell, a WPIAL quarterfinalist last season, emerged from a difficult Section 1-3A race with A-K Valley rivals Freeport and Deer Lakes. The Bucs (13-2) will play the winner of Keystone Oaks and North Catholic in the quarterfinals.

Eshbaugh said he was glad to avoid a potential quarterfinal game against Freeport (10-3), which received the No. 7 seed and will play No. 10 Ellwood City at 3 p.m. Tuesday at North Allegheny. Freeport made the WPIAL semifinals last season.

Deer Lakes (9-8), meanwhile, drew the No. 8 seed and will play No. 9 Southmoreland — the defending WPIAL Class 3A champion — at 5 p.m. Tuesday at Shaler.

“Whoever wins Triple-A is going to earn it, no doubt about it,” said Deer Lakes coach Craig Taliani, who led the Lancers to two WPIAL titles and three runner-up finishes between 2012-17. “There’s tough teams all the way through, some really good teams with good pitching, good hitting, good athletes. I think it’s a pretty tough class to get through.”

Plum (15-3) came on strong at the end of the season, winning nine of its final 10 games to earn a share of the Section 2-5A title with Hampton, which drew the No. 3 seed. The Mustangs will play either Shaler or West Allegheny in the WPIAL quarterfinals.

Knoch (16-1) dominated Section 3-4A, and the Knights’ lone loss came at an early-season tournament in Kentucky. They will play either section opponent Ambridge, the No. 6 seed, or No. 11 Greensburg Salem in the quarterfinals.

Apollo-Ridge and Riverview both qualified for the playoffs out of Class 2A. Apollo-Ridge (9-4), making its third consecutive playoff appearance, received the 12 seed and will play No. 5 Frazier at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Latrobe. Riverview (8-5), in the postseason for a fifth straight year, got the No. 14 seed and will play No. 3 Laurel at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Hampton.

The WPIAL championship games will take place May 29 and 30 at Peterswood Park in Peters Township, the third different title venue in as many seasons.

“I’m happy with it,” Eshbaugh said. “We’ve got some new teams to see, and we’ll see how it plays out.”

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

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