Burrell baseball wins, stays alive in playoff race
Senior Day at Burrell also turned out to be elimination day as the Bucs and Apollo-Ridge played to stay alive in WPIAL Class AA playoff race.
With an 8-2 victory, Burrell maintained its quest for a 16th consecutive WPIAL berth as senior Ben Pish gave up five hits, struck out nine and drove in three runs at Huston Middle School field.
The Bucs are 6-5, one-half game behind Ford City (7-5) in the race for the third and final playoff spot in the section.
Burrell needs to defeat West Shamokin on Tuesday afternoon to secure a postseason berth.
If Burrell wins, Ford City will be eliminated because the Bucs swept the season series against the Sabers.
The loss dropped Apollo-Ridge (9-11, 5-7) out of playoff contention.
After his team suffered major graduation losses from last season, Burrell coach Mark Spohn had problems working in new players. Inclement weather early in the season prevented the team from getting any rhythm.
“It was difficult to just practice and get to some things you needed work on,” Spohn said. “They're working hard, and they're starting to play some better baseball.”
Burrell (6-8 overall) got ahead, 3-1, early then built its lead in the middle innings.
“Defensively, we just didn't do our job today. It's that simple,” Vikings coach Jeremy Smail said. “Four fielding errors and two or three mental lapses — like throwing to wrong base — when you play a team like Burrell, and you don't execute the plays you should execute, you get behind.”
Cody Wolfe led off the Bucs' second with a single and went to third on Corey Arabia's one-out single. Shane Cornuet hit a chopper to third, and Wolfe beat the throw home.
Zach Abel hit into a force play, scoring Arabia, and pinch runner Dustin Maloney scored on a passed ball.
Apollo-Ridge starter Delbert Brown, however, got out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the third inning. He struck out two batters on 3-2 counts before Nick Artman lined out to end the threat.
Abel ignited a two-run rally in the fourth with a triple then came home on Pish's single. Wolfe drove in Pish with a grounder to put Burrell in front, 5-2.
The Vikings scored a run in the fifth on Mitch Johnston's second run-scoring single of the game, but that was as close as Apollo-Ridge would get.
Pish retired the last seven batters he faced.
“My fastball was working, and I was just throwing strikes,” Pish said. “My curveball was working nicely, too.”
“He did great, only two walks,” Spohn said of Pish. “Anytime you don't give up walks and we don't make any errors, we can do really well.”
Pish's triple in the fifth drove in two runs, and Justin Fleck's pinch-hit single in the sixth brought home Wolfe and capped the scoring.
The WPIAL will release playoff pairings Friday afternoon, and opening-round games are set for Monday.
George Guido is a freelance writer.