Burrell in unfamiliar spot with playoffs approaching
TribLIVE Sports Videos
Senior pitcher Nik Artman can give three good reasons why he believes Burrell's baseball playoff streak will remain intact.
The first he frames — like a fastball on the outside corner — in one word.
“Pride,” Artman said. “That's the biggest thing. In Little League, we never lost to these teams. I still believe, athletically, we're the best team in our section.”
“Me and Zack Abel and the other seniors have talked,” Artman said. “We don't want to be that class that didn't make the playoffs.”
“And coach (Mark) Spohn has never not been to the playoffs,” Artman said.
Strike three. Burrell's not out — yet.
With three Section 3-AA games remaining, Burrell is facing an unfamiliar plight. Normally in a comfortable position in the standings at this time of year, many times the prohibitive front-runner, the Bucs are scratching for their 16th straight postseason berth.
The top three teams in each section qualify. Only section-leading Deer Lakes (12-2, 9-0) had secured a spot heading into Friday.
Burrell is 5-4 in section, tied for third with Ford City (5-5, 5-4).
Apollo-Ridge remains in contention at 3-5. Freeport is in second place at 7-2.
“We still have a chance,” Spohn said. “But we have to run the table.”
Burrell has been a model of consistency in Alle-Kiski Valley baseball for more than a decade. The Buccaneers have made the WPIAL playoffs every season since Spohn took over in 1998. Seven of those trips ended in the first round, but Burrell has been to the PIAA (2001, ‘08) and WPIAL (2010) championship games.
“It's been a struggle at times (this year),” Spohn said. “It's one of those off years. We're a little down, but it's tough to put your finger on what the problem is.”
After a three-game skid, the Bucs have rebounded with three straight wins, the key one being a 3-2, 9-inning win over Ford City on Thursday.
The Bucs swept the season series against Ford City, which could be important if tiebreakers come into play.
“Huge. That game was absolutely huge,” Spohn said. “We told the kids before the game that it was pretty much a playoff game for us.”
Ford City pitcher Justin Retzer struck out 16 batters, but Burrell scraped together enough offense to beat the Sabers' ace.
“There's always been a target on our backs,” Artman said. “That shows the respect teams have for us. Even when we're not playing good, we still face people's aces.”
Burrell started the season 0-3 and took time to find momentum.
“We didn't get a lot of reps early on to progress,” Spohn said. “We had a bad start. We had to replace some key people and we didn't catch any breaks.”
Burrell is now 5-7.
Spohn's teams have never finished with fewer than 10 wins in a season.
“Hopefully, we'll prepare better and get better,” Spohn said.
Most Burrell teams are known for being rowdy and blitzing opponents with constant noise. This year's group isn't altogether quiet, but it's different.
“This is the most laid-back team I've been on here, and this is my third year,” said Artman, who has been on teams that reached No. 1 in the rankings, and this year's, which dropped to last place during one stretch. “This team is very different. The seniors don't put pressure on the younger kids.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.