Young Burrell softball team gets off to good start; tough tests await

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Wednesday, April 10, 2024 | 8:41 PM


The Burrell softball team won a section championship two years ago and finished runner-up last year.

Both times, the Bucs made a run in the WPIAL tournament and qualified for the PIAA playoffs.

While a couple of major contributors from both teams have graduated, a strong nucleus remains that hopes to keep the train rolling.

With a 5-2 start this spring, including a 3-0 mark in Section 1-3A after a 3-1 victory Wednesday evening over rival Freeport, things are looking up for a team that has experience but no seniors.

“It’s nice having such a core group of people,” first-year coach Dave Ferres said. “The juniors and the sophomores, some of whom have only been around one year, have a boatload of experience with the intensity and atmosphere surrounding those playoff games. Burrell really established itself strong the past several years. We also have a couple of freshmen who have come in and made a huge difference.”

Juniors Pyper Ferres (shortstop), Brae Jones (third base) and Bella Stewart (catcher) front the top of the lineup for an offense that has scored 83 runs.

“It’s been a big push to get the offense going even more,” coach Ferres said. “I have been around for a while and have seen what they can do and what their potential is at the plate. I had been working with a lot of them, even some of the freshmen since October with the volunteer workouts and also doing one-on-one sessions. It’s been huge, and the girls are hitting the ball super hard.”

On Tuesday in a 19-5 section win at Valley, Ferres, Stewart and Jones combined to go 6 of 11 with 11 RBIs with seven runs scored.

Jones was a single away for the cycle and had six RBIs. Ferres smacked a grand slam in an eight-run first inning.

Freshman center fielder Shelby Novak (3 for 5), sophomore right fielder Christina Gural (2 for 4), sophomore first baseman Haylee Heasley (2 for 3) and freshman infielder Sophia Gregg (2 for 3) also finished with multi-hit games.

“The incoming freshmen have experience playing, and we knew they would bring a lot to the team this year,” Pyper Ferres said. “The last couple of years, as a team, we hadn’t found the ball as much as we would’ve liked. But this year, we are really finding the ball (with the bats). Our hitting has definitely improved.”

Coach Ferres said the more experienced players have been welcoming to the newcomers.

“At the start of the season, we knew we were going to count on them,” he said. “Several of them and some of the other younger players were going to have to fill some big shoes and be counted on to increase their roles in the lineup.

“The work ethic from players like Katie Armstrong and having her around for the past couple of years is what the players are trying to emulate. That is helping with putting the girls in the right mindset. The girls are here to work and to get better and to have fun. Part of the fun is that competition. I like the way the team is competing so far.”

With Armstrong, the two-time Valley News Dispatch Player of the Year, graduated and now playing at Gannon, it opened up an opportunity in the pitching circle.

Shelby Novak and junior Sabrina Hoover, along with Jones, have worked in the circle in varsity games.

“(Pitching) was the wild card coming into the season,” coach Ferres said. “We knew we could play defense and hit to support the pitchers as they came along. From the first meeting, I said it was all hands on deck for pitching. I wanted to see some of them get in the circle and show me what they got.”

Novak, Ferres said, has done well. She kept a potent Ligonier Valley lineup in check in a 3-1 Rams nonsection win March 26. She worked six innings and gave up eight hits and three earned runs while striking out four and walking just one.

Against the Yellowjackets on Wednesday, Novak went the distance, surrendering five hits and three walks while striking out six.

Stewart smacked a solo home run, and Ferres and Heasley added RBIs in the win.

“Shelby didn’t want to pitch at the start of the year, but I went up to her and said that I needed her, and she’s stepped up,” coach Ferres said.

Having Stewart as a rock behind the plate, coach Ferres said, is a big boost to whoever is in the circle.

“The pitchers aren’t afraid to throw anything,” he said. “She is ready to make whatever play needs to be made. There’s not a lot of balls that get by her. Bella knows when to call a timeout and talk to the pitchers when it’s needed. Pyper and Brae do, too. They know when someone needs a little pickup.”

Burrell will continue to test itself Friday against defending section champion Avonworth before hosting Deer Lakes and ace Maddie Kee on Monday.

“Now, we’re really going to see what we’ve got,” coach Ferres said. “They will be big tests for us, no doubt. There’s going to be a lot of intensity, energy and excitement.”

“We have some tough games coming up,” Pyper Ferres said. “But I know we will be ready.”

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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