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Mustangs find success with four games in March

| Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Plum's baseball team recently escaped the lingering winter weather in Pittsburgh.

Florida brought warmer temperatures during the team's trip from March 20 to 23, though not as warm as what the Mustangs have been accustomed to on their annual spring trip south.

“In the seven years we've been going down there, this is the toughest it's been weather-wise,” Plum coach Carl Vollmer said. “Typically, it's 80 to 85 and sunny this time of year. This time, it was 73 to 78 and partly sunny, and it rained a couple of times at night.”

While it was cooler than normal in St. Petersburg, it was far better than the snow and ice the team left behind in Pittsburgh. Plum made good use of its time on the road trip, getting in several practices sandwiched around two scrimmages and three games.

“We saw a lot of different kids on the mound and at different positions. We were able to compete and see some things at the same time,” Vollmer said. “That's the challenge from a coaching perspective — giving guys opportunities and mixing things up while also trying to win games.”

Vollmer was successful at both. The Mustangs got plenty of valuable practice time and also won all three games they played in Florida.

Plum defeated a team from Bryant, Arkansas, 6-3, and swept a pair of games from two New York schools, edging Archbishop Stepinac, 8-7, and knocking off White Plains, 13-2. The Mustangs played two of their games at McKechnie Field, the spring training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“The Pirates were on the road, so it worked out for us to play there,” Vollmer said. “We've been able to do it three of the last four years. It's an incredible field and a great experience for our kids.”

Vollmer said his team got close to 30 hours on the field during the trip.

“It would take close to three weeks to accomplish that up here,” he said. “It allowed us to work on everything.”

Vollmer said sophomore second baseman Mike Maleski stood out for Plum, which hit well and put up 27 runs in its three games.

Maleski went 7 for 8 in Florida, and he walked twice.

“We swung the bats pretty well. We had a handful of guys who excelled from an offensive standpoint,” Vollmer said.

“There were some things we struggled with, and we had some key guys banged up. But we were able to overcome that and perform well as a team.”

The trip served as a bonding experience for Vollmer's players.

“The kids get to know each other because they're living together for five days, and they're spending a lot of time together,” Vollmer said. “It's a great benefit as we move forward into the season.”

Moving forward with the 2013 season may be a slow process for Plum and the rest of the schools in the WPIAL. The Mustangs had only been on their field a few times before Saturday's nonsection game against Kiski Area and have practiced mostly in the gym or on the football field's artificial surface.

“The weather up here is tough on all the teams in western Pennsylvania. This is one of the worst springs we've had,” Vollmer said. “I think it's safe to say that a lot of schools haven't been on the field much, if at all.”

With games being cancelled because of weather and field conditions, teams will be playing compacted schedules filled with makeup games.

“We're going to be playing a lot of games in a short time. Depth and pitching are going to be a factor,” Vollmer said.

“The teams that have developed more depth are going to have more success.”

Plum 7, Kiski Area 3

The sun was shining and temperatures climbed into the 50s on Saturday, and Plum took advantage with a victory over Kiski Area at Plum High School.

The Mustangs collected seven hits in the game.

A solo home run from Maleski led off the second. It was Plum's only hit over the first three innings, but the Mustangs used two singles and a walk in the fourth to spark a three-run rally.

Freshman Alex Kiriloff and Maleski each singled with one out, and junior Nick Stotler drew a walk.

Kiriloff and Stotler both scored on pitches that found their way to the backstop, and Maleski came home on a groundout to second off the bat of junior Zach Sansonetti.

Seniors Andrew Dawson and Austin O'Block singled and later scored in the fifth — Dawson on a throwing error and O'Block on a wild pitch — to put Plum ahead 6-0.

“Sometimes you have to take advantage of what teams give you, and that's what we were able to do today,” Vollmer said.

“Offensively, we are capable of a little bit more. We chased some bad pitches a little bit early in the game. Mike continues to be red hot and got us on the board, which is important.”

Senior Zac Manuppelli started and improved to 2-0 on the season. He also was the winning pitcher in Plum's Florida victory over Bryant.

He gave up two hits, one walk and struck out 12 in six innings of work. Two walks and a single plated two Kiski runs with one out in the sixth, but Manuppelli came back with back-to-back strikeouts to end the Cavalier rally.

“He's a polished veteran guy who doesn't get rattled,” Vollmer said.

Plum capped its scoring in the bottom of the sixth as junior Will Kirkpatrick doubled to lead off the frame and later scored on a sacrifice fly to right from senior Mark Russo.

Trib Total Media staff writer Michael Love contributed to this report.

Dave Schrecengost is a freelance writer.

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