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Bold move backfires as Burrell softball falls to Steel Valley

| Tuesday, May 14, 2013, 8:57 p.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Steel Valley's Maddie Cotter covers home plate and tags out Burrell's Brittney Wolford during their WPIAL Class AA first-round softball playoff game Tuesday, May 14, 2013, at Gateway High School.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Burrell's Jaila Manga slides safely into home plate as Steel Valley's Casey Hartnett anticipates the catch during their WPIAL Class AA first-round softball playoff game Tuesday, May 14, 2013, at Gateway High School.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Disp
Steel Valley's Paige Mitrik fumbles the ball as Burrell's Brittney Wolford watches for the call at third base during their WPIAL Class AA first-round softball playoff game Tuesday, May 14, 2013, at Gateway High School.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Burrell's Claire Fisher delivers a pitch during their WPIAL Class AA first-round softball playoff game Tuesday, May 14, 2013, at Gateway High School.

Bold coaching moves in the latter stages of close softball games come with a risk. No one knows that better than Burrell's Mike Spagnolo, who throughout his coaching career calmly has rolled the dice from his perch at third base.

Spagnolo coaches only one way. He feels out situations and, with little second-guessing, almost always gives an aggressive green light.

But a gamble backfired on the sixth-seeded Buccaneers on Tuesday in their playoff opener. A suicide-squeeze play went awry in the final inning of a 2-1 loss to No. 11 Steel Valley in a WPIAL Class AA first-round game at Gateway.

Trailing, 2-1, with one out in the seventh, Spagnolo sent pinch-runner Brittney Wolford home after a pitch trickled away from Steel Valley catcher Chelsea Rohan.

But Rohan recovered within the small backstop area and flipped the ball to freshman pitcher Maddie Cotter to tag out Wolford, who reached third after a sacrifice bunt by Kelsey Oddis.

Aggressive baserunning allowed Wolford, who entered the game after Erika Finn's single, to get into scoring position. Steel Valley third baseman Paige Mitrik couldn't hold on to the throw, and Wolford got a lucky break.

But Krista York never got a chance to initiate the squeeze play and suddenly, Burrell's hopes were all but dashed in a dusty scene at home plate.

“You get to a point in a game when you say, ‘Can we wait?' ” said Spagnolo, who prides himself on playing the percentages and dissecting situational softball. “The answer was no. We couldn't wait any longer. It's the seventh inning of a playoff game. We had to try and make something happen.

“We came up 40 feet short.”

Burrell still had one out to work with, but, after York walked, Melissa Mazzei grounded out to end it.

Instead of the Bucs advancing, they suffered their second straight first-round defeat while Steel Valley enjoyed its first playoff win since 2006.

“That's an interesting move, yes, but the squeeze didn't surprise me too much,” Steel Valley coach Matt Janov said. “With the short backstop, it's a gamble for sure. Our catcher made a heads-up play.”

Aggressive softball helped Burrell win a WPIAL title two years ago, and Spagnolo doesn't plan to change his strategy in the future.

Given the same situation, he'd probably give the “go” sign again.

“This team is weak in aggressiveness,” Spagnolo said. “We have to get tougher. I think our girls can learn from this.”

Burrell hit the ball but either right at defenders or with weak popouts.

“There were too many flyouts,” Spagnolo said. “We didn't get the hits going. Overall, we didn't quit, but we have to be more aggressive.”

Steel Valley got a two-run double from shortstop Skyler Vinay in the fourth. Vinay also made an outstanding over-the-shoulder catch to rob Burrell in the first with a runner on.

“If she doesn't make that catch, who knows what happens,” Janov said. “That was a great play and was huge for us even thought it was the first inning.”

Burrell's run came in the sixth when Ashley Szymkowiak singled to score Haley Kuzmirek with two outs.

Szymkowiak went 2 for 3, as did Steel Valley's Mitrik.

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