Burrell baseball program savored long run
In 1374, English poet Geoffey Chaucer was credited with creating the saying “all good things must come to an end.”
In 2014, Burrell's baseball program experienced Chaucer's phrase from the Middle Ages.
Burrell's 16-year WPIAL baseball playoff run ended earlier this week with losses to Apollo-Ridge and Freeport in Section 3-AA.
While 16 years is impressive, if the WPIAL in the 1990s had taken the top three section finishers to the playoffs like it does now, Burrell would have made the playoffs 22 years in a row.
The Bucs made the playoffs from 1994-96, but the Bucs were eliminated on the final day of the regular season in 1992, '93 and '97.
That meant Thursday's game at Ford City was the first time Burrell played a game without section implications or playoff seeding since May 12, 1991, when the Bucs were one-hit by Springdale.
The 16-year surge included berths in the WPIAL finals in 2010 against Beaver Falls and the PIAA 2001 finals against Phoenixville at Williamsport's Bowman Field and 2008 against Loyalsock at Altoona's Blair County Ballpark.
Enjoying the ride was Mark Spohn, coach for all 16 seasons.
“I've got to give credit to everybody, my assistant coaches and my players,” Spohn said. “You can't do something like this alone.”
Burrell didn't go meekly into the sunset, to be sure.
In Monday's game against Apollo-Ridge, the Bucs trailed 9-2 going into the seventh inning and scored six runs, coming up short in a 9-8 decision.
Tuesday versus Freeport, Burrell was behind 6-2 but scored two runs in the seventh and had the bases loaded before a flyout to center ended the run.
“We had some bad breaks this year, things didn't go our way,” Spohn said. “We'd get hot, then with the weather, we'd have to sit a few days and couldn't practice. But everybody was in that same boat.”
Senior Cody Wolfe was on board for the final two seasons of the streak.
“We thought about the streak, and we're upset that it's over,” said Wolfe, who hit nearly .400. “The chips didn't fall our way, and we lost a lot of close games.”
Spohn didn't have a magic formula for all those successful seasons.
“Every team's a little different,” he said. “Some teams had better pitching, some better hitting, some just had better attitudes.”
Even rival coaches have been impressed.
“It's pretty incredible, the consistency they've had over there for so many years,” Deer Lakes coach Jon Pedrosky said. “You need a good youth program, preparation and you have to avoid a huge graduation class.”
Here is Burrell's playoff run in perspective:
• The Bucs won 234 games in those 16 seasons.
• When the surge started in 1998, the WPIAL had only two baseball classifications. Now there are four.
• The seniors on the 1998 team are approaching age 34.
• The WPIAL record for consecutive baseball playoff appearances is 28 by North Allegheny.
Burrell has been a target for a long time.
“When I first came to Deer Lakes five years ago, our biggest goal was to be where Burrell was,” Pedrosky said.
George Guido is a freelance writer.