Burrell baseball’s focus in a tough section run: ‘Just compete’
Thursday, April 14, 2022 | 5:29 p.m.
Burrell baseball coach Mark Spohn wanted to send a message to his players after a hard-to-believe 1-0 loss to rival Valley last Friday.
The Bucs didn’t allow a hit — or allowed a hit, depending on the scorer — and a ball didn’t leave the infield. Valley scored a run in the sixth inning when Ben Aftanas reached on an error, stole second base, advanced to third on a sacrificial bunt and scored on Tyler Danko’s field.
Freshman Isaac Lacinski pitched six innings with five strikeouts and junior Ryan Scheftic closed out the seventh, but the Bucs bats only two hits and couldn’t go up to the board.
“You just have to compete,” Spohn said. “We talk about it all the time. After this loss, we just talked about how you approach every beat, how you approach every pitch. As a pitcher, how you compete. Everything matters. You don’t have time to take a pitch out here if you’re a pitcher or give up a strike when you’re a hitter. You have to be ready.”
The simple but effective message had an immediate impact as Burrell bounced back Tuesday with a 5-4 win over Knoch in a Section 1-4A game on the road.
Senior Joe Druga allowed one run on three hits with 10 strikeouts in six innings and was also 2 for 3 with two RBIs at home plate.
“He’s just a competitor,” Spohn said of Druga. “He throws pretty hard, keeps the ball on the ground, changes gears pretty well. When he’s throwing strikes and hitting runs, he’s pretty hard to hit consistently.
Mercyhurst rookie senior Tristan Kenzovich went 4-for-4 with a double and an RBI, and second AJ McLafferty and rookie Brady Stone closed the final inning in relief.
“We had a good approach at home plate,” Druga said. “I feel like I executed my shots well. We ran the bases well, we sacrificed ourselves, we played small ball. We didn’t make a lot of mistakes. We played really well defensively. It was a great approach.
“It was huge, especially after our Friday loss to Valley. It builds trust.
The victory helped Burrell improve to 2-4 on aggregate and 1-2 in the 1-4A section. A second game against Knoch (3-2, 1-2) was postponed Wednesday and Thursday and is scheduled to be played at 3 p.m. Friday at No Offseason in Russellton.
The win also helped the Bucs hold on to a crowded section that also includes North Catholic (4-3, 4-0), Indiana (5-2, 3-1), Highlands (3-4, 1-3 ) and Freeport (2-5, 1-3). Burrell opened section play with 7-3, 5-0 losses to North Catholic as some of the younger players adjusted to college play.
Druga, Kenzovich and pitcher Phil Walsh are the only seniors on the team this season, so the team is relying on several underclass and freshman college players to play key roles. A flu bug also affected several team members, which put some inexperienced players in high-pressure situations.
“You’re in very competitive baseball,” Spohn said of the intense series of two-game stretches. “Some of these kids aren’t used to very competitive baseball yet. The expectations are really high and the pressure is really high. They just need to take action and know how to approach it.
Lacinski and Stone made an immediate impact and are part of a class of 12 freshmen in the program this spring.
“They get thrown to the wolves early,” Spohn said. “There are two ways to do it. Some kids have the “OK, I’m a competitor” mentality. I will improve myself. Other children say, “I’m overwhelmed and I’m cowering. I just hope the competition comes out of them.
Burrell will continue their series of Sectional Series matches against Highlands next week. Games are scheduled for Tuesday at Burrell and Wednesday at Highlands. Home-and-away series against Freeport and Indiana will follow for the next two weeks as the Bucs chase a top-four finish and advance to the WPIAL playoffs. They finished fifth last season and just missed out.
“This section is difficult. Everything is up for grabs right now, depending on how each team performs,” Druga said. “I think we’re all about the same skill level. Highlands will certainly be a tough opponent. They have good throws. I think we will agree with our approach.