By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
WEXFORD — High school baseball games typically are 7-inning affairs, but that was not the case during Monday’s PIAA Class AA western regional title tilt.
Parlaying a pair of miscues, 4 hits and a walk, Burrell broke open a tight 2-0 contest en route to a 6-run 3rd inning and shattered Sharon’s undefeated season, 8-1 at North Allegheny High.
Burrell (20-2) will meet Loyalsock — a 7-6 winner over Brandywine Heights for the Eastern Regional banner — 10:30 a.m. Friday at Blair County Ballpark, Altoona, for the commonwealth crown.
“ ... We didn’t play Sharon baseball,” lamented Tigers’ taskmaster Bill Dorfi, whose club committed 3 miscues while pitchers Alex Senak and Todd Rearick collectively permitted 11 hits, 4 walks and hit 2 batters.
The 5-time WPIAL Section 3-AA champion Buccaneers tallied 2-out runs in both the 1st and 2nd stanzas off southpaw starter Senak, then batted around in the 3rd.
Back-to-back Burrell base hits by eventual winning pitcher Seth Naperkowski and Dan Olszewski, a 2-base error misplaying Eric McAlpine’s attemped sacrifice bunt, and a walk brought the Bucs 2 runs. Another error and 2-out safeties by Dave Kunkle and Steve Yakopec — the former a bad-hop bounder that handcuffed Sharon shortstop Sammy Schweiss; the latter, the only big blow, a 2-run single — built the Bucs’ bulge to 8-0 through 3.
“It was a ‘Murphy’s Law’ type of game, this game,” Dorfi said. “Sometimes the ball bounces against you, and (Mon)day it did for us ... ”
Senak, who actually attended Burrell schools during his youth, was unable to get out of that 3rd inning, laboring through a 73-pitch (38 strikes) 2ìinnings and allowing 8 runs on a half-dozen hits, 2 walks and a hit batsman. Right-handed reliever Todd Rearick blanked Burrell for 3êinnings on 3 hits while whiffing 3, walking 2 and hitting a hitter.
The visiting half of the 3rd inning also short-circuited any Sharon success.
Zach Kepple drew a leadoff walk, then Schweiss slapped the 1st of his pair of hits. However Naperkowski — who reportedly has won 10 of 11 decisions this season, losing only to Beaver in the WPIAL Tourney semifinals — fanned both Zach Anderson and Rearick, then sawed off Senak, who popped out to second-sacker Olszewski.
The Tigers tallied in the 5th frame, but settled for a singleton when they perhaps should have scored more.
Kepple crushed a leadoff double to the right-center field gap and Schweiss singled. With runners at the corners Schweiss stole 2nd, but Bucs’ shortstop Kunkle — headed to perennial NCAA Division III powerhouse Marietta College — relayed a throw to catcher McAlpine, who applied a tag to pinch-runner Nick Juranovich.
Anderson’s 1-out chopper over 3rd baseman Phil Spagnolo set up a 1st-and-3rd situation, and Rearick ripped a sac fly to left. Senak drew a 2-out base on balls, but No. 3 hitter Cory Johnson grounded out to Olszewski, ending the inning.
“I think our bats were a little ‘flat.’ We hit a lot of popups, and that’s typically not our team,” Dorfi related. “Typically, we hammer the ball all the time. Not to take anything away from them; they have a nice team.”
The right-handed Naperkowski needed 117 pitches and scattered 8 hits — 2 apiece by Schweiss and Anderson and 1 each from Rearick, Senak, Johnson and Kepple — fanned 5 and walked 1.
“I have two (pitchers) who are real close; Kunkle’s right there with him. But (Naperkowski) couldn’t get his curveball over. If he would’ve gotten his curveball over ... but I guess he did well enough to win, so it really didn’t matter,” laughed 11th-year Burrell head coach Mark Spohn.
Burrell earlier this year won the PIAA AA wrestling championship led by 135-pound runnerup Shane Welsh, who doubles as the baseball team’s 1st baseman. And Spohn, who will take his team to the state championship game for the 2nd time this decade admitted a win Friday “ ... would be a beautiful thing.”
The stellar season for Sharon (21-1) ended the scholastic careers of seniors Senak, Johnson, Kepple, Jason Riffle and Brian Bornes, and Dorfi said,
“I told the kids, ‘We haven’t lost a game since last year to Seton-LaSalle (an opening-round, season-ending setback),’ so they really need to be proud and keep their heads up.
“Very proud, very proud. I love my kids, they’re like a family to me. I kept telling them all year, they showed a lot of heart, and they did it again (Mon)day,” the 5th-year Sharon skipper continued, adding,
“I’m real proud of the kids. The seniors we had this year, they carried us to two District 10 titles and into the western final this year. I can’t ask anything more from those guys. It’s something that really hasn’t been done at Sharon before. Hopefully, for the younger kids this sets the tone now and raises the bar for them. It’s something to shoot for next year.”
Notes: Burrell’s bats were led by Olszewski’s 3-for-3 plate performance, 2 hits apiece from Kunkle, Steve Yakopec and the Carnegie Mellon University-bound Naperkowski, and 1 from McAlpine. In addition to Yakopec’s 2-run single, Naperkowski notched a run-scoring single and Kunkle connected for another. Burrell did not have an extra-base hit, and only 1 Bucs’ baserunner, Spagnolo, tallied twice. ... Some of the Buccaneers sported playoff beards, not unlike the Pittsburgh Penguins’ recent Stanley Cup playoffs surge.
PIAA CLASS AA SEMIFINALS
BURRELL 8, SHARON 1
Sharon 000 010 0—1-8-3
Burrell 116 000 x—8-11-1
Nelson, DH, 2-1-0; Pish, PR, PH, 1-0-0; Kunkle, SS, 4-1-2; S. Yakopec,CF, 3-1-2; Naperkowski, P, 4-1-2; Doutt, PR, 0-0-0; Olszewski, 2B, 3-1-3; McAlpine, C, 4-1-1; D. Yakopec, RF, 2-0-0; Welsh, 1B, 3-0-0; Spagnolo, 3B, 3-2-1. Totals: 29-8-11.
Rearick, CF/P, 3-0-1; Senak, P/1B, 3-0-1; Johnson, 1B/3B, 3-0-1; Tomko, 3B/2B, 3-0-0; Revale, 2B/RF, 3-0-0; Norcross, LF/CF, 3-0-0; Kepple, C, 2-0-1; Juranovich, PR, 0-0-0; Schweiss, SS, 3-1-2; Anderson, RF/LF, 3-0-2. Totals: 26-1-8.
LOB—Burrell 8; Sharon 7. E—Revale, Schweiss (S); Kunkle (B).
2B—Kepple (S). S—McAlpine (B). SF—Rearick (S). W—Naperkowski, 7 IP, 8 H, 1 R, 5 K, 1 BB. L—Senak, 2ì IP, 8 H, 8 R (6 earned), 3 K, 2 BB, 1 HBP.
By Ed Farrell