Share This Page

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.

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.