Winter weather delays start of spring season for A-K Valley teams

Friday, March 23, 2018 | 9:33 PM

Burrell checks the extended weather forecast at the end of each softball practice, hoping to get an idea of when it might take advantage of some suitable conditions to go outdoors.

To date, the news has been about as pleasant as the weather itself.

Friday represented the opening day of WPIAL baseball and softball season, and yet most teams spent the afternoon in the same place as much of their winter workouts: indoors. Outside of a few teams that traveled to points south, postponements littered the schedule — the result of a midweek storm that dumped anywhere from a few inches to more than a half foot of snow in Western Pennsylvania.

“You have a bunch of people with all this energy who want to get outside and explode,” Burrell softball coach Brian Eshbaugh said. “(Instead, it's) oh boy, here we go again.”

To date, Burrell spent two days outdoors: one practice and one scrimmage. And that's a common refrain for teams.

“We haven't been on dirt yet,” Freeport softball coach Sam Ross said. “We've been on our football field, thank goodness — it's artificial turf — but (not the softball field). I knew it was going to snow, but I didn't know it was going to snow that much.”

Ross said the winter conditions were some of the worst he can remember from his time as a softball coach, consisting of two years at Apollo-Ridge and eight at Freeport.

“The Farmer's Almanac said it was going to be bad, and they were dead on,” he said. “It's the winter that won't quit.”

A few Alle-Kiski Valley teams made alternative plans, with the Deer Lakes and Valley baseball teams going to Myrtle Beach, S.C., and the Plum baseball team to St. Petersburg, Fla. They each will play a few games before returning home next week.

Deer Lakes baseball coach Josh Tysk called Friday's conditions in Myrtle Beach “chilly,” but not chilly enough to affect the Lancers' night game against Albert Gallatin.

“I think it just helps getting on the field, getting guaranteed games on these first play dates,” Tysk said. “It's hard to play in the third week in March in Western Pa., especially when you get a snow storm like we had. It pushes everything back. Down here we're guaranteed to get four games, and it kind of gets us in the flow.”

Burrell softball went to Myrtle Beach in recent years but stayed home this spring. The school is considering a trip somewhere next year, Eshbaugh said.

“One year it did (help us) because we were able to get outside right away when we got back,” he said. “Then one of the other years, it was nice to be outside for three or four days, but then we were in the gym again when we got back.”

Absent a trip down south, teams try to make the best of what they have in Western Pennsylvania. That means schools that have the benefit of a turf football field can use it for baseball and softball practice. Other schools use batting cages, and Tysk said Deer Lakes had been able to use its baseball field a few times.

Fox Chapel has turf infields on its baseball and softball fields, enabling more outdoor practices.

“It does help you in terms of getting ready for the season, of being prepared for your pitching,” Foxes baseball coach Jim Hastings said. “That's where I think it will really help us — for anybody, really.”

Of course, Fox Chapel's fields have grass in the outfield, making them susceptible to this week's snow.

Without good outdoor conditions, teams spend ample time in the gym, which can make player evaluations more difficult. Eshbaugh said Burrell uses softer balls when working indoors rather than regulation softballs.

And then there's the sometimes-tedious quality of staying indoors.

“I heard the word ‘monotonous' (Thursday) night from a good senior,” Ross said, laughing. “She said, ‘Oh, this is getting so monotonous, coach.' I said let's not go there, let's go ‘disappointing.' They're disappointed. They'd like to get out there and see what they have, too.”

For now, that will have to wait — hopefully not for too long.

“Right now, you've got to go with whatever the forecast says,” Eshbaugh said. “Unfortunately now, when you've got 10 inches of snow out there, or 8 inches, or whatever we had, it's back to Day 1 again. Here we go again.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review staff writer.

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