Spot in states secure, but Burrell softball team still plenty to play for in 3rd-place game

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Monday, May 29, 2023 | 6:55 PM


Last year, the Burrell softball team lost in the WPIAL Class 4A semifinals, dropping it to the third-place consolation game against Montour with a trip to the PIAA playoffs on the line.

The Bucs, in a must-win situation to continue their season as only three Class 4A teams advanced to states, rose to the occasion and topped Montour to reach the PIAA tournament.

Burrell again is in a consolation game. It plays Waynesburg Central in the Class 3A third-place game on Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Gateway.

While a trip to states this year is set in stone — all four Class 3A semifinalists clinched — there still is a lot on the line for the Bucs.

“The girls are looking forward to this game, first, to bounce back from last Tuesday and get that winning feeling again,” said coach Rick Nealer referencing a 3-0 loss to top seed and section rival Avonworth in a semifinal matchup. “It’s also a game that will help us get ready for the state tournament. We want that third-place spot to better our position (in the bracket).

“We want to make sure we are playing our best ball right now, and the girls are out here making sure they are in the best position to do that. We’ve had some really good practices since last Tuesday. It’s been hot, but they’ve been working hard.”

There was no rest before preparation began for Waynesburg as the Burrell players and coaches were right back on the field Wednesday, Thursday and again Friday for a practice before the team banquet later that evening.

Burrell (13-6) also was on the practice field Saturday and again Monday morning in advance of Tuesday’s contest.

“Coach sat us down like he always does and made sure we understood that the game with Avonworth was behind us, and there was nothing we could do about it,” senior first baseman Cassidy Novak said. “We had to shake it off as we had more games to come, especially with what is on the line for us on Tuesday. We came out (Wednesday) with a very positive attitude and went to work.”

The PIAA tournament for Burrell begins June 5, and the Class 3A bracket is beginning to take shape with games throughout this week.

“Coach always makes sure we know how cool it is to be able to go to states,” senior Abby Larko said. “It’s not easy to make it there. It’s a great feeling that we get to practice and work hard to be ready for games that are still out there.

“With us making it to (the PIAA quarterfinals) last year and with what we had coming back, a lot of teams were gunning for us. We had some freshmen and other new players coming in this year, and we wanted to make sure they knew what it would take to get back to where we were last year with a chance to go even further.”

A win for the Bucs against Waynesburg puts them in a matchup against the District 6 champion, either Forest Hills or Juniata. The District 6 title game is Thursday at St. Francis (Pa.).

If Burrell loses Tuesday, it will face District 10 champion Jamestown in the first round. Jamestown defeated Fort LeBoeuf, 5-2, on Monday in the District 10 title game in Hermitage.

“I don’t know much about Waynesburg, and I am not really concerned about looking up any specific information on them,” Novak said. “I know they are a good team or they wouldn’t be where they are, but I think our mindset is on how we have been playing as a team and what we can control in our practices to get ready. I think if we come together as a team and play our best game, we can win. Working together is what we care about.”

Like Burrell, Waynesburg Central wasn’t able to get much offense going in its semifinal game against No. 2 Southmoreland last week at Peterswood Park in Peters Township.

The Raiders collected seven hits off of Southmoreland pitcher Maddie Brown, but they were unable to push any runs across. Freshman Gina Tedrow and senior Emma Zehner had a pair of hits each for Waynesburg Central, the Section 4 champion.

Waynesburg (15-4) is in the PIAA playoffs for the first time since 2010, when it lost to Valley in the WPIAL Class AA semifinals before falling to PIAA power Philipsburg-Osceola in the first round of states.

Sophomore second baseman Sabrina Hoover, who had Burrell’s lone hit, a fifth-inning single, against Avonworth last week, remembers the extra powerful feeling that came from last year’s consolation victory over Montour.

Saddled with a recovery of nearly two months from a broken arm, Hoover returned to game action against the Spartans. The Bucs’ run to that third-place game and then to the state playoffs gave her the opportunity to redeem herself in her first varsity season.

“It was really special to be cleared and to be back playing with my teammates,” Hoover said. “I understood that I was coming back in a pretty important game.”

Hoover, again a fixture in the starting lineup and an expected centerpiece for the Bucs the next two years, said she came into this season highly motivated to help her team get back to states.

“I always want to be ready with my best game for the team and show up on the field and make positive impacts,” she said. “(Tuesday’s) game is important to us for seeding for states. Everything is important to us at this point. I think we are really focused and ready to play.”

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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