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Burrell softball team tops Steel Valley, 2-1, in 9 innings

| Tuesday, May 13, 2014, 11:33 p.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dis
Burrell's Haley Kuzmirek (13) is congratulated by teammates after hitting a home run in the top of the ninth inning against Steel Valley in their WPIAL playoff game at Plum High School on Tuesday, May 13, 2014.

Burrell's Haley Kuzmirek picked a good time to come out of her weeks-long slump.

The Bucs junior blasted a pinch-hit double to left in the top of the seventh to tie the game at 1-1.

Then in the ninth inning, Kuzmirek homered to left field off the glove of Steel Valley freshman Veronica Sikora.

The towering shot proved to be game's decisive run in a 2-1 Burrell victory in a Class AA first-round playoff game at Plum.

The winning hit came against Ironmen sophomore Maddie Cotter, who struck out 10 and pitched out of several jams.

Burrell (13-3) moved on to quarterfinal play against top-seeded Beaver at a date, site and time to be determined.

Steel Valley, which defeated Burrell, 2-1, in last year's playoff opener, finished with a 10-5 record.

“I just went up there confident that I could hit the ball, and it just worked out,” Kuzmirek said. “I honestly couldn't think about what I was doing. I was just in shock.”

“One of the hardest things to do, anybody will tell you, is to come off the bench in a playoff game,” Bucs coach Mike Spagnolo said. “She had been sitting for weeks, and she came through nicely.”

After Burrell left four runners in scoring position over the first six innings, winning pitcher Kasey Wolford led off the seventh with a single, her second hit of the day and only the second for the Bucs.

With Kuzmirek's shot heading for the left center field fence, Wolford took off from first and never looked back.

In the ninth with two outs, Kuzmirek's drive headed for the 191-foot mark in left. Sikora timed her jump and made a leaping attempt at the catch. The third base umpire ruled Kuzmirek out.

But the ruling was changed as soon as it was determined that Sikora didn't have the ball.

“She made a great effort,” Steel Valley coach Matt Janov said of Sikora. “I knew one team was going to get (a homer) sooner or later playing with such a short fence. I was hoping it was us, but it didn't work out that way. I think when she hit the fence, it kind of jarred her hand.”

The Ironmen scored in the first inning in a most unusual way.

The often-reliable Burrell defense committed four errors — three physical and one mental.

Chelsea Rohan reached base on an error and raced to third base on another throwing error after Lisa Straub's single.

Kenzie Fisher hit a bouncer to third. Jaila Manga, thinking there was a force play, touched third.

When she realized her mistake, she fired to first, but Ashley Szymkowiak juggled the ball as Rohan crossed the plate.

The run held up until the seventh, but Burrell had several chances.

With runners on second and third with one out in the sixth, Cotter retired Szymkowiak and Manga on called third strikes.

“She not intimidated by this environment,” Janov said of Cotter. “She's only a sophomore, but she pitched a couple great playoff games last year.”

Cotter finished the season with 112 strikeouts.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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