BURGETTSTOWN – After Burgettstown defeated its last five section opponents by an average of 12 runs per game, Blue Devils head softball coach Mark Deer welcomed a game against talented Sewickley Academy at Pradetto Field Thursday.
Though Burgettstown defeated the Panthers by six runs in the first meeting April 1, Sewickley Academy entered the Section 1-A matchup in second place, one game behind the Blue Devils.
Burgettstown found itself trailing by three runs and forced to make an early pitching change, but the Blue Devils fought back and Morgan Ellek had a walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh inning to lift the Blue Devils to a 6-5 victory in James F. Hillman Park.
Burgettstown sophomore pitcher Katie Tarr, who relieved Ellek in the third inning with the Blue Devils trailing 3-0, helped make sure Burgettstown would strengthen its hold on first place in the section.
“This win was a huge confidence booster for us,” Tarr said. “We knew it was going to be a tough game, even though we beat them the first time. We want the section title and definitely did not want to give them a chance to share it with us.”
The win puts the Blue Devils (9-0, 11-4) two games ahead of the Panthers (7-2, 7-2) in the standings. With just three Section 1-A games remaining, a section title is within reach.
Burgettstown trailed 3-2 entering the bottom of the sixth inning before its offense came to life. Back-to-back singles from sophomore first baseman Cheyenne Winters and senior second baseman Bryanna Lonick started the inning, and a throwing error scored Lonick. Sophomore center fielder Cassie Carnes then hit a two-out, two-run single to give the Blue Devils a lead.
“We have a great lineup,” Deer said. “Hits can happen anywhere in our batting order. When someone is struggling, another player steps up.”
Six of the Blue Devils’ nine players had at least one hit and three recorded a multi-hit game.
With a two-run lead, Tarr took the mound in the seventh with the top half of Sewickley Academy’s batting waiting. After recording one out, Panthers junior catcher Sarah Manzinger walked and scored when junior Kat Goebel reached first on a throwing error. Tarr forced a fly out to put the Blue Devils one out away from the win.
Sewickley Academy had its best hitter stepping to the plate – freshman left fielder Chandler White, who was 3-for-4 with a two-run home run in the first inning. White hit the fourth pitch from Tarr into the gap in left-center field to score Goebel and tie the game, 5-5. Tarr closed out the inning with a ground out on the next at-bat.
“They are a very good team” Panthers head coach Win Palmer said. “We love playing them because they are so well-coached and they play hard. I wish we could play them every game.”
Sewickley sophomore pitcher Savannah Henry got the first two batters in the bottom of the seventh to ground out before Lonick hit a double and Ellek, who went 2-for-4 with two RBI and a run, drilled the first pitch she saw into right field to score the game-winning run.
“In that situation, you just have to go up there and block everything out,” Ellek said. “You have to hit anything that comes your way, and it was great that it worked out. It’s always nice to have a tough game like that.”
For the 18th time in his 19 years as Burgettstown’s head coach, Deer’s team is headed to the WPIAL postseason. And the Blue Devils did it with only one senior, two juniors, six sophomores and two freshmen receiving regular playing time.
“I’ve been at Burgettstown for 19 years and while this is probably the youngest team I’ve coached, they might be one of the most talented,” Deer said.