West Xtra: Burgettstown takes the lead in section softball race

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Since the end of last season, there are not many WPIAL softball teams that have been on the softball diamond as often as Burgettstown Area.

For the first time in his 19 years with the program, coach Mark Deer decided to gather most of his players in the summer and form a travel team. He estimates the travel team played about 40 games last summer. Then to start this season, while most district teams were postponing games and practicing indoors, the Blue Devils traveled to Myrtle Beach, S.C., to compete in a tournament.

"The travel league team worked out real well, it really did," Deer said. "In the past I thought the South Carolina trip was good for team building. This year you can't even imagine what an advantage it was to get down there and into some good weather and play ball and get practices in. At one time we probably had 10 games in [including three in South Carolina], where everyone else up here had four games."

Not only is Burgettstown playing a lot of games, they are winning a lot of games. Through Tuesday (15 games played) Burgettstown was 11-4 overall and a perfect 9-0 in Section 1-A.

The Blue Devils had to replace five starters this season, not an easy task for a Class A program. But the team does have three capable pitchers, a rare luxury for a Class A program.

Kate Tarr, a 6-foot-3 sophomore, has handled a majority of the pitching this season. Another sophomore, Morgan Ellek, also has been an effective pitcher. To give an idea of the talent of Tarr and Ellek, a third pitcher, senior Bryanna Lonick, is available also and she was an all-section pitcher last season.

Burgettstown had to replace five seniors, including shortstop Lizzie Strain, a Capital University recruit, from last year's team. Junior Sami Scopel moved from third base to shortstop to replace Strain. Scopel also bats third in the lineup.

Sophomore Cassie Carnes is a new starter in the lineup. She bats leadoff ahead of junior catcher Caley Ritts, a returning starter.

Tarr bats cleanup. After seeing limited innings in the pitching circle last season, she has emerged as the team's ace this season.

"She is more of a power pitcher," Deer said. "She has done really well. At 6 feet 3 she looks like she is standing on top of you when she is out there. It is a big advantage."

Tarr has a 6-3 win-loss record with a 2.0 ERA and 55 strikeouts. Ellek is 4-1 with a 2.38 ERA with 39 strikeouts. Both Tarr and Ellek have hit home runs this season. With the emergence of Tarr and Ellek, Deer has been able to play Lonick at second base.

"Bry was our starting pitcher last year and an all-section pitcher but we have only needed to pitch her in one game this year. We just haven't needed her [to pitch]," Deer said. "The two sophomores are doing so well and Bry is so talented, we have her playing elsewhere. To have three pitchers is a luxury I have never had before. I have an all-section pitcher who can come in and close any time."

Lonick bats sixth in the lineup, behind sophomore Cheyenne Winters, a returning starter at first base.

"Overall I am very pleased," Deer said. "Things have gone very well. We are still making mistakes, we are young, very young, but we seem to be overcoming [the mistakes]. We are hitting all the way through the order."

When Ellek is not pitching, she bats seventh and is the team's designated player. There are two new starters in the outfield, twin sisters, sophomores Jordan Cullison and Taylor Cullison. Jordan starts in right field, Taylor starts in left field.

A newcomer in the infield is freshman third baseman Paige Sherman.

Scopel was leading the team with a .500 batting average going into this week's schedule. She also had 19 RBIs. Ellek was batting .298 with 20 RBIs. Lonick was batting .404 with 16 RBIs. Ritts (.370), Tarr (.356) and Winters (.385) were all batting over .300.

With the folding of the Sto-Rox softball program, Section 1-A has a new look to it this year.

"The section hasn't been as strong because Sto-Rox dropped its program," Deer said. "But Sewickley Academy and Bishop Canevin have improved and it has really helped us out."

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