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Plum set for pursuit of another section title

| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Gary Bills | For The Plum Advance Leader
Plum senior Zac Manuppelli logged 36 1/3 innings on the mound last season, and he returns as the Mustangs’ most experienced pitcher for the 2013 season.

Changes effected Section 4-AAAA in the offseason — for one, it's now Section 3 — and the Plum varsity baseball team welcomes in Baldwin and McKeesport and said goodbye to Penn Hills, Woodland Hills and Kiski Area.

The Mustangs shared the Section 4 title last year with Pittsburgh Central Catholic, and the Vikings, along with Franklin Regional and Gateway will be section foes again this year.

“We only play 10 section games, so the magnitude and importance of each game becomes that much greater,” Plum head coach Carl Vollmer said.

“Central Catholic, Franklin Regional and Gateway all have good teams coming back. It will be a challenge for us. I would like to think we will be competitive.”

With losses to graduation and newcomers to the lineup, Vollmer said the upcoming trip to Florida will be valuable.

Plum scrimmages twice Thursday, opens the season with a game Friday and then plays a doubleheader Saturday at McKechnie Field, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates, in Bradenton.

“There are a lot of new names on the roster, and we have a few holes to fill,” Vollmer said.

“We have to figure some things out, and the five games in three days will give us a chance to play some guys we want to take a closer look at. It also creates opportunities for some guys to make an impact because of the number of games and number of innings played in a short period of time.”

Ten players are back who saw varsity time last year in starting or backup roles.

Senior Tyler Podvasnik played at third last year, but he has converted to catcher for 2013.

He will catch a pitching staff led by senior Zac Manuppelli, who logged 36.7 innings last year, the most among any returning pitcher. He went 2-3 with a save and 47 strikeouts.

Also back to bolster the pitching staff is sophomore Brian Albert, who will also be a key member of the infield at shortstop or third base. Albert pitched 11 innings last year and recorded two saves.

Manuppelli will move to third when he is not pitching.

Senior David Cross, Vollmer said, will have an increased pitching role this season. He was 1-0 in 2012 with five innings pitched in four appearances.

Other returning players expected to take starting jobs in the infield are junior Nick Stotler (shortstop, third base) and sophomore Mike Maleski (second base).

Seniors Andrew Dawson (right field) and Austin O'Block (center field) return to anchor the outfield. O'Block is a three-year starter, while Dawson is starter for the second season in a row.

Senior Marc Russo, a utility player who Vollmer said is sound defensively, and junior Dante Palmieri, a catcher, designated hitter and pitcher, also are returning varsity players expected to contribute to the team again this season.

The varsity team's lone freshman, Alex Kiriloff, Vollmer said, could make an impact in his first season.

He is expected to be the team's first baseman and also toe the rubber as a starting pitcher.

Junior Will Kirkpatrick is a favorite to land the starting job in left field.

Others vying for playing time on varsity this season include seniors Kyle Dawson (pitcher) and Matt Zezza (first base); juniors Brandon Hoener (third base), Zach Sansonetti (outfield, pitcher), Eric Bellasario (catcher) and Alex Tishko (outfield); and sophomore Phil Mahr (pitcher, outfield).

“There is a lot of competition at each position,” Vollmer said.

“The guys are pushing each other for playing time. We have a good mix of veterans and youth on the roster.”

Junior Matt Gunsallus has battled illness since the offseason, and he is with the team this spring.

Vollmer said the team draws inspiration from Gunsallus' fight and is rallying around him.

He said he hopes Gunsallus can return to the field for the Mustangs baseball program down the road.

After returning from Florida, Plum hosts Kiski Area on March 28 at 4 p.m.

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at mlove@tribweb.com.

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