Burrell softball motivated by close loss to eventual WPIAL champion

March 27, 2018 GMT

When practice started a week ago, one of the first topics of discussion for Burrell softball coach Brian Eshbaugh and pitcher Brittany Dunn was last season’s emotional playoff game against top-seeded Ellwood City.

Dunn had a no-hitter through five innings, and the Bucs led 5-2 only to see the Wolverines rally and win 6-5 on a walk-off single.

Burrell left disappointed, and Ellwood City went on to win the WPIAL title. But that game showed Eshbaugh the Bucs are capable of being one of the top teams in the WPIAL.

“We were right there, and that’s something that we tried to tell the girls,” Eshbaugh said. “Each year, we’ve been able to get a little further. We want to work on getting a little better position (in section) for when they do the playoff pairings.”

The Bucs have qualified for the postseason 12 consecutive years, and Dunn hopes to be a calming influence in the circle as they try to extend the streak. The near-upset of Ellwood City has provided motivation.

“That game definitely hurt,” Dunn said. “We had some little stuff happen in that game that we need to clean up. I’ve worked hard with my pitching, and, hopefully, that will take us far.

“If we play our hearts out like we did in that game, we can beat anyone. That game opened the door for what we can do this season.”

Alaina York, Kasey Wolford and Paige Beattie graduated, leaving the Bucs with three spots to fill. York is playing at Wheeling Jesuit, and Wolford is at Carlow.

The Bucs return an experienced core with Dunn, catcher Lea Coffman, outfielders Cara Fiore and Kayla Santucci and infielders Delaney Markle and Kelly Nitowski.

Freshman Rikki Wyble could see time at shortstop, and sophomore infielder Maia Ferra also could play a big role.

“We have seven or eight players back that saw some pretty decent playing time last year. It’s nice to know that we have some depth,” Eshbaugh said. “We have a great freshman group coming up, and we have some sophomores that have been waiting for their chance to get in there.”

Added Dunn: “We all get along with each other. Nobody bickers or argues. It’s a really good group of girls.”

Eshbaugh said his goal is to have a better section result this year after the Bucs placed fourth last season, but it won’t be easy. In addition to traditional rivals and perennial contenders Freeport and Deer Lakes, South Allegheny entered Section 1-3A.

The Gladiators tied with Freeport for second behind Deer Lakes.

The Bucs expect the section to be tough again.

“It’s like a playing a playoff game anytime we play Freeport, Deer Lakes or South Allegheny,” Eshbaugh said. “I think we’re in one of the toughest sections in Class 3A. I keep telling my girls that they have to come to play every game. Nobody is going to roll over for us.”

Burrell will face nonsection foes Albert Gallatin, Steel Valley, St. Joseph and Apollo-Ridge in nonsection play, all of which made the playoffs in their respective classes last year.

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.