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High school softball: East Hall's new star in the pitching circle has a familiar name, but is creating her own legacy
East Hall's Amari Burce delivers a pitch against Seckinger on Sept. 20, 2022 in Gainesville. - photo by David Friedlander

For the better part of the last dozen years or so, the Burce family has been a fixture around the girls sports programs at East Hall High.

There has seldom been a Vikings softball or girls basketball game during that time, especially in the last five years, in which you wouldn’t find Anuel Burce and at least one of his three daughters either on the court, on the field or in the dugout or stands.

With older sisters Ebony Teasley and Alexis having moved on, it is now time for the youngest Burce, Amari, to make her mark.

As the 2022 softball regular season heads down the home stretch, the Vikings pitcher/infielder is well on her way to doing just that.

It is a particularly special situation for both Amari and Anuel, since the latter has coached all three of his daughters, and he has a lot of belief in his youngest’s potential on the diamond – and more specifically, in the pitching circle – for the Lady Vikings.

“I think it’s been great,” Anuel Burce said. “I know it’s hard for some people to coach their kid. With me being from the (East Hall) community, everybody knows who I am, knows the type of coach I am. They know I’m not going to play my daughter just to play my daughter. They’re going to have to earn it.”

So far, Amari has more than earned her spot in the Lady Vikings’ line-up.

With a 7-3 victory over Seckinger on Tuesday night at East Hall Park, the sophomore right-hander ran her record to 8-8 on the season with a 2.20 ERA and 91 strikeouts against just 45 walks in 91 innings in 2022.

And as Anuel pointed out, Amari has had to pay her dues before getting the opportunity to succeed.

As a freshman last year, she was a regular part the East Hall line-up, but at a position in the infield rather than in the circle, and one that she wasn’t that familiar with.

But rather than be upset or unsure about the situation, Amari welcomed the opportunity to not only contribute to last year’s 14-10 campaign in a different way, but learn from watching then Lady Vikings, and now University of West Georgia, pitcher Calli Hardison to help make her better this season and beyond.

“When I first came out of middle school, I was a big part of the middle school team,” Amari Burce said. “I pitched almost every game my eighth-grade year, but then I came to the high school (team) and I knew that I had a certain role to play for our team.

“I knew my best position wasn’t going to be in the circle (last year). It was going to be in the field somewhere. I actually had to play at third for the first time last season. I’d never played third before, but I knew that was our best shot with me being at third. … I knew that (Hardison) was a lot more calm in (certain) situations, and I still had a lot of growing to do.”

Though the youngest Burce has definitely grown a lot in the past year in particular, that growing process has been continual for many years.

Watching two older sisters compete on the diamond and the hardwood from a very young age, it seems inevitable that she would follow in their footsteps.

And while she very much enjoys basketball, Amari says she has developed an especially strong passion for softball.

“I started playing (sports) at a really young age,” Amari recalled. “I played basketball and softball because both my sisters played, and I was the youngest, and I looked up to them a lot. But I grew up around the softball field because my dad coached softball, so we were here a lot more. I was around the softball program a lot, so I just knew it was something that I wanted to be a part of.”

Still, it took a while for her to try pitching, and even there, her older sister Alexis influenced that decision, at least in part.

“It kind of just evolved,” Amari said of how she became a pitcher. “I really didn’t every think that I’d pitch. I started off playing middle infield and was just kind of into that. Then me and (Alexis) … were like, ‘What if we tried pitching?’

“My dad got us in with a pitching coach. My sister ended up pitching for about two years and said, ‘This isn’t for me.’ But I fell in love with it as soon as I started, and I knew that was how I wanted to play.”

Burce's older sister now plays basketball at Erskine College in Due West, S.C.

Of course, Amari had to be patient to wait for her chance to pitch on the varsity level thanks to the presence of Hardison last year.

She also had to remain patient this summer after disaster nearly derailed all her hopes on the diamond for 2022.

“Right before travel softball season, I got hurt playing basketball,” Amari said. “So, I was out until the very end of July, so I couldn’t play from May until July because (the doctors originally) thought I tore my ACL, but luckily, I didn’t.

“That kind of scared me because I didn’t know if I was going to get to play this season. I think we were all kind of freaking out because we don’t really have pitcher other than me. (But) it gave my body a break from playing basketball right after softball. I think that helped me a lot and helped with me just maturing as a player knowing how much I have to work to be the player I want to be.”

Anuel Burce has no worries that his youngest daughter will put in that work to continually improve, and be a key for the Vikings (8-8, 5-7 Region 8-4A) as they continue to battle for one of the four state playoff berths.

“She’s been playing high-level travel ball at the 18U level for the last couple of years, and off and on from a pretty young age,” Anuel said. She’s always played up (in age) and done well pitching against older girls. Now in high school, you know you’re going to pitch (to players) anywhere from freshman to a senior. So I think (the travel experience) has helped a lot.

“She’s just really competitive an knows the game with a high IQ with the level she’s played (at) and the people she’s been around and associated with in the program.”

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