Section-title aspirations driving Burrell baseball

Thursday, April 19, 2018 | 7:48 PM

Mark Spohn didn't waste words as he outlined what Burrell needs to do to achieve its goals in the Section 1-3A baseball race.

“Just keep winning,” the Bucs' veteran coach said.

It sounds simple, but early signs indicate a competitive section race, and for Burrell (4-1, 3-1) to reach the playoffs for the 19th time in 20 seasons, the Bucs can't afford to fall behind.

That made Wednesday's win over rival Valley, dealing the Vikings their first section loss, that much more important. Not only did the game place Burrell and Valley (5-4, 3-1) into a second-place tie a half-game behind Steel Valley (5-3, 4-1), it also meant the Bucs avoided a dreaded two-game losing streak after they lost to Steel Valley late last week.

“It was probably one of our biggest games of the season,” said senior center fielder Nick Hwostow, whose bases-clearing triple provided all the runs Burrell needed.

Given Burrell's run of postseason berths, the Bucs know full well the feeling of playing in big games. But this team entered the season with loftier goals than just advancing to the playoffs: a section title, which would be the first since 2012, and a deep playoff run.

The Bucs last season posted their first playoff victory since 2010, ending a five-game postseason losing streak, before bowing out in the WPIAL Class 3A quarterfinals against eventual champion Riverside.

With several key contributors returning, Burrell wants even more success.

“It's kind of unspoken,” Hwostow said. “We just know that we don't (necessarily) expect it, but we push each other.”

To this point, Burrell is having difficulty finding its rhythm given several weather-related postponements, the latest coming Thursday against Freeport.

With such a fragmented schedule, Spohn said he hadn't gotten much of an opportunity to get his full roster into games.

“The other drawback is just getting better,” he said. “Through repetitions, you just get better at fielding, at pitching, everything. It's difficult. Coming in here, hitting in the cage, taking ground balls off a perfect gym floor, it's not quite the same as the bumpy grass.”

Those difficulties aside, Burrell is outscoring teams 36-8, with the majority of the runs allowed coming in the 5-1 loss to Steel Valley.

The Bucs lean on a four-deep pitching staff led by junior Luke Virag, senior Jake Okopal and sophomores Zach Miller and Tanner Spohn, with several others in reserve. Senior Drew Cambal has been out with a knee injury, but Mark Spohn expects him back soon.

The pitching could become an even bigger factor for Burrell down the stretch, as all the postponements could result in a condensed schedule.

“They're good pitchers to keep going,” Virag said. “I've got a lot of trust in them. I know they can do their job. If our infielders and outfielders do our job and keep the errors down, I think we'll be fine.”

Burrell's hitting got off to more of a slow start, but in the game against Valley, the Bucs scored all four of their runs with two outs in the second inning.

They'll need more of that down the stretch if they want to follow their coach's simple plan.

“The pitching we're seeing in the section is pretty good,” Spohn said. “You're not going to get 10 hits against those kids. When you get your five, you've got to make them count.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.


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