Steel Valley girls upset 6th-seed Burrell for 1st playoff win since 2006
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As Matt Janov was filling out a preseason questionnaire about his Steel Valley softball team and came across the section on team expectations, he contemplated for a moment before answering: “We expect to compete to achieve a winning record and compete for a playoff berth.”
Fast forward two months, and Janov doesn't mind one bit how much he underestimated his team.
Skyler Vinay's two-run double in the third inning was all the scoring Steel Valley needed, and freshman Maddie Cotter kept free-swinging Burrell off balance as the Lady Ironmen won their first playoff game in seven years with a 2-1 upset of sixth-seeded Burrell (14-5) at Gateway.
It was Steel Valley's first playoff win since a 3-2 victory over Deer Lakes in 2006.
“I thought we really had a good chance of making the playoffs at the beginning of the year, but to beat a team like that who has been to the championship game two of the past three years, there's no way I would've thought that,” Janov said. “But as the year went on, we just kept playing teams tough. After that, I knew we could play.”
Steel Valley (12-5) will take on undefeated and third-seeded Riverside (16-0), a 10-0 winner over Bentworth, in the quarterfinals next week at a time and date to be determined.
“This is a great feeling to win a playoff game especially coming in my senior year,” Vinay said. “We wanted to go out with a big bang.”
While it was Vinay's big bang — her 10th double of the season in the third that gave Steel Valley all of its runs, it was a play performed to perfection in the last inning that sealed the victory.
With the score 2-1 in the seventh, pinch runner Courtney Wolford moved from first to third on a sacrifice bunt that eventually had a trio of Steel Valley players converging for the ball at an uncovered third base.
“I heard that they were very aggressive on the base paths, but wow,” Janov said.
Turns out Burrell was just a little too aggressive.
Krista York missed an apparent safety squeeze, and when the ball got past Steel Valley freshman catcher Chelsea Rohan, Wolford broke for the plate despite the short backstop at Gateway.
“I was surprised that they sent her,” Janov said. “But our freshmen are just so smart. They just know the game and know what to do at the right time.”
Rohan flipped the ball to Cotter, who tagged Wolford well before reaching home for the second out.
“We worked on that play during every practice, and we knew it was going to happen one day or another,” Cotter said. “That was the first time all year that we had to do that, and it worked out.”
Cotter kept Burrell off balance the entire game in earning her 12th win. Cotter, who was averaging eight strikeouts per game, managed only two against Burrell, but was able to induce 14 fly ball outs.
“I wasn't trying to get them to pop up, but it worked,” said Cotter, who has 128 strikeouts this year.
Steel Valley banged out nine hits off Burrell's Claire Fisher, including two from Paige Mitrik, but couldn't push across any more runs despite having two on with one out in the fourth and leadoff singles in the fifth and sixth.
“Man, I kept thinking that we needed that third run,” Janov said. “I figured we would need three. Turns out we didn't.”
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