Valley wins playoff section showdown vs. Burrell baseball

Tuesday, May 16, 2023 | 10:08 PM

Section rivals Valley and Burrell got together again Tuesday night for another baseball encounter, but the stakes were much higher this time in a preliminary-round WPIAL Class 3A playoff game at Highlands.

While Valley came up short against its neighbors from Burrell in both regular-season Section 3 games, the Vikings are moving on in the playoffs after surviving a late Bucs rally to come away with a 6-5 victory.

Jacob Staraniec and Nikolas Heakins combined to strike out 12 batters, and No. 16 Valley rode a four-run, third-inning rally to eliminate No. 17 Burrell and advance to a date with top seed Riverside in the first round Thursday at Seneca Valley.

“Any time you beat your rival, it feels good,” Valley coach James Basilone said. “Especially in the playoffs.”

Dante Taliani drove in a pair of runs during Valley’s third-inning uprising that saw the Vikings pound out four hits after being held hitless in the first two innings but still managing to take a 2-1 lead in the first.

Both teams battled nerves at the start. Valley survived seven errors, including two in the first inning that led to a 1-0 Burrell lead.

With one out, Ryan Bates reached on an error, Austin McClafferty was hit by a pitch and Bates came around to score on Staraniec’s off-balance throwing error after he came off the mound to field Isaac Lacinski’s bunt.

Staraniec, the winning pitcher, wound up striking out the side and finished with eight before Heakins relieved with two runners on and none out in the sixth.

“Jake did a nice job out there,” Basilone said, shrugging off that first-inning error. “He’s been very consistent throughout the season for us. Earlier in the year, when he was out there, we just didn’t get the hits we wanted.”

Valley (11-10) rebounded in the bottom of the first, scoring twice without the benefit of a hit. Burrell coach Mark Spohn was ejected for arguing a hit-batsmen’s call.

Bucs starter Ryan Scheftic began the inning by walking Tyler Danko, then hit Alexander Vagnier with a pitch that Spohn argued should’ve been a foul ball on a bunt attempt.

Spohn fumed and kicked a plastic pail outside the Burrell dugout before being tossed. He stood throughout the game in a parking lot along a fence outside the field.

Burrell assistant Jay Miller took over the team, and Scheftic promptly walked Conrad Hoover to load the bases. Danko and Vagnier later scored with the help of two errors and a wild pitch.

“It was a bizarre game, especially in the beginning,” said Miller, who also serves as coach of the Bushy Run American Legion team.

Miller said Spohn was arguing Vagnier squared to bunt and the ball hit his bat, but umpires ruled otherwise on both aspects.

Burrell (7-10) tied the score 2-2 in the second, when Valley committed two more errors and Staraniec uncorked a wild pitch, allowing David Kleckner to come home.

“There were some nerves out there,” Basilone said. “Most of them had never been in this arena before. I told them, ‘When you get to the playoffs, it’s a whole different atmosphere. You’ve got a lot of people around you who are rooting for you. You’ve got people rooting against you.’ ”

Three juniors — Staraniec, Danko and Wesley Schrock — were the only Valley players with playoff experience. They were freshmen on the Vikings’ 2021 team that scored a first-round victory over Mohawk.

“We have a couple of freshmen, and I talked a lot to them about what to expect,” Staraniec said. “Everybody has butterflies. It’s the playoffs. But we got through it. They did their job, we did our job and we got the Dub (W for win).”

Hoover, Heakins, Staraniec and Taliani strung together hits, and Danko was walked during Valley’s four-run third that chased Scheftic.

Burrell scored a run in the fourth to close within 6-3 as Brayden Mell walked and scored on Kleckner’s RBI single.

The Bucs sent eight batters to the plate in the sixth and scored twice to cut it to 6-5 on Dylan McKallip’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly and Justin Hyland’s RBI single against Heakins, who settled down to strike out the side in the seventh and earn a save.

“Once we got past Staraniec, and Heakins came in, we put good wood to the ball,” Miller said. “Heakins was amped, but if he was nervous, he came out there and handled his emotions very well and he finished the game.”

Undefeated Riverside (17-0) is next for Valley.

“We’ll hope we’ve got some of those nerves out of us now,” Basilone said. “Both teams were very tight tonight. As rivals, you’re playing against your friends and people are watching you play. It’s nerve-wracking. We’ll get ready for the next one now.”

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