Recovered after tough WPIAL playoff loss, Burrell baseball team refocused for PIAAs

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Monday, May 27, 2024 | 6:42 PM


Burrell baseball players were given the day off last Wednesday, one day after a tough 2-1 loss to Avonworth in the WPIAL Class 3A semifinals at North Allegheny.

The brief respite from the rigors of the postseason gave them a chance to recharge and refocus. The immediate focus for the Bucs, who hit the field for practice Thursday, Friday and Sunday, is Tuesday’s third-place consolation game against No. 4 South Allegheny at Washington & Jefferson’s Ross Memorial Park.

“We got back together (Thursday) and talked about the (Avonworth) game a little bit and then realized what we have in front of us,” senior center fielder A.J. McLafferty said. “We’re definitely not done yet. We feel we have a lot of baseball left.”

Burrell coach Jay Miller said his players responded well and got back to work to get ready for a South Allegheny team that pitched a pair of shutouts in the first two WPIAL rounds before being limited in a 2-0 loss to top seed Riverside in the other WPIAL semifinal game at North Allegheny.

“We talked at the start of practice Thursday about how much we’ve grown since the start of the season, what we’ve done well and not so well and what we can do better,” Miller said. “For as much as we’ve accomplished, I feel this team can do more and will do more. The guys understand what they need to clean up as they move on.”

Miller said his team’s 1-0 win over Neshannock in the quarterfinals and the immediate return to the field the next night against Avonworth was draining.

“It was intense,” Miller said. “I love those intense games. I think these guys do, too, now that they are seeing it and experiencing it. The guys expended so much energy and gave it everything they had in those two games. You can tell that everyone has bought into it. It has brought this team closer together.”

Junior Stevie Hasson is a likely candidate to get the start against South Allegheny. He was solid against Neshannock as he threw seven shutout innings and allowed just two hits as the Bucs edged the No. 11 Lancers, 1-0.

Hasson struck out six and walked three.

That performance came on the heels of a strong outing in a 6-2 first-round upset of No. 3 Mt. Pleasant where he fired six scoreless innings and scattered three hits.

Hasson is 6-3 on the season with a 2.59 ERA over 54 innings.

South Allegheny, the No. 4 seed, beat No. 13 McGuffey, 7-0, and No. 12 Shenango, 2-0, to reach the WPIAL semifinals.

Senior Jaxson Champ and junior Ryan Cortes collected South Allegheny’s only two hits against Riverside. They both reached with no outs in the fourth and were on second and third with one out. But South Allegheny was unable to get either runner home.

South Allegheny, the Section 2 champion, split with Avonworth in section play.

Senior Trenton Popovich mirrored Hasson’s success as he fashioned back-to-back complete games in getting his team to the semifinals. He surrendered a combined five hits over 14 innings in the two wins.

Miller said his team is well aware of what the Gladiators can do. The teams met for a doubleheader in the fall with South Allegheny getting the better of Burrell in those matchups.

“They took it to us in the fall,” Miller said. “We lost one game 15-0, made a lot of mistakes and gave them a lot of free bases with walks and things like that. We bounced back and lost the second game 3-1. It was a team that we felt we could compete with then, and we’re better now. I am sure they are a better team, too.

“It’s some motivation for the guys to try and get one back. It should be a really good game Tuesday.”

Beyond Tuesday’s game against South Allegheny, Burrell will be playing June baseball as the first round of the PIAA tournament is Monday at a site to be determined.

The Bucs, in the state playoffs for the first time since 2010 when they made it to the quarterfinals, will be traveling for their first-round game.

“It’s great to know we get to keep playing,” said junior Isaac Lacinski, who gave up just four hits and struck out six in seven-plus innings in the loss to Avonworth.

Lacinski also doubled home the Bucs’ lone run.

“In recent years, we’ve exited the playoffs quickly, and the season’s been cut short. It’s a lot of fun to keep playing games,” he said. “We were the 14 seed, but we didn’t let that affect how we approached games or how we played. The playoffs have brought out the best in us.”

A Burrell win Tuesday will mean a meeting with the District 6 champion (Central Cambria or Huntingdon). That title game is set for Wednesday at Vet’s Field in Altoona.

A loss would set the Bucs against the District 10 champion, Fairview in the first round. Fairview defeated Mercyhurst Prep, 5-1, for the District 10 title Monday.

“It’s crazy to think that we will be playing games in June,” McLafferty said. “Not too many teams can say that. It’s a blessing for everyone on this team who has worked so hard to get to this point. I’m happy that we did what we did in the regular season to get us to the playoffs and happy that we did what we knew we could do once we got to the playoffs.”

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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