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A-K Valley baseball teams swing into spring

| Thursday, March 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Plum's Zac Manupelli delivers a pitch during practice Tuesday, March 19, 2013, in the Plum High School gymnasium.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Plum's Nick Stotler warms-up with a light swinging practice during practice in the Plum High School gymnasium on Tuesday, March 19, 2013.

With one of the area's most successful high school baseball programs, Plum rightfully attracts a fan following for its games.

The crowd size is expected to be boosted by some who are there to watch more than the game.

That's because several Mustangs have caught the attention of major-college scouts who will be monitoring Plum's fortunes in 2013.

It's expected to be another banner season for the Mustangs, who are in Florida to begin the campaign.

WPIAL teams are scheduled to open the season Friday.

Coach Carl Vollmer's team will work out twice Thursday in the Sunshine State before opening the season Friday against IMG Academy, a team that includes Manny Ramirez Jr., son of the former major league slugger.

“We have a good blend of veteran guys and youth,” Vollmer said. “It will really be important how this team jells — chemistry-wise — because we have a lot of potential. Hopefully, this trip allows us to bond a little bit.”

One of the highlights of the Florida trip promises to be a Saturday doubleheader at McKechnie Field in Bradenton, home of the Pirates in Grapefruit League play.

“It's incredible for us,” Vollmer said. “We've been there before, but they've just put $10 million in renovation into it, so I'm anxious to see what it's like.”

Senior pitcher Zac Manupelli and junior Nick Stotler are expected to be the linchpins of the Mustangs' staff.

Besides Plum heading south, Riverview is moving to a new address — Class A.

Despite competing well as one of the smallest Class AA schools, the Raiders are now in Section 4-A with St. Joseph, Leechburg, Springdale and North Catholic.

“The ironic part about it is, we think, we would have been competitive this year had we stayed in double-A, even though we were in a tough section with strong teams like Greensburg Central Catholic and Shady Side Academy,” said 13th-year Riverview coach Rich Griser. “We have cautious optimism that this could be a special year for us.”

Anthony Malky, who has signed with Division I Akron, will lead the Raiders' pitching staff.

Malky had an 0.94 ERA last season in 52 innings.

“We're strong up the middle, but you need to have an anchor pitcher in high school ball,” Griser said. “We had that in 2001 when we went to the WPIAL finals with Brandon Federici and in '07 when we went to the semifinals with David Kaye.”

Riverview has won at least 10 games in each of Griser's 12 seasons.

Last season, Section 3-AA ended in a three-way tie with Freeport, Burrell and Deer Lakes carrying 9-3 records.

Freeport will have two 2012 Valley News Dispatch all-stars moving to different positions.

Yellowjackets coach Chris Graczyk said Robbie Miller will move from the outfield to the infield when he's not pitching, and former catcher Dustin Koedel is now an outfielder.

Burrell welcomes back Zach Abel, one of the WPIAL's top hitters last season, as the Bucs shoot for their 15th straight WPIAL playoff berth.

One coaching change in the area has Jim Perry, former assistant with the Burrell and Plum programs, taking over at Valley.

Kiski Area seems to frequently be on the move, and the next two-year cycle is no different.

Kiski Area has been reassigned to Section 2-AAAA and will face many of the same schools it battles in basketball and football, such as Norwin and Hempfield.

First baseman Troy Glendenning returns for the Cavaliers, and coach Daryl Hixenbaugh believes the team will have depth on the mound this year.

George Guido is a freelance writer.

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