Plum baseball snaps six-game playoff losing skid
The Plum varsity baseball team hoped to get the playoff monkey off its back Monday as it faced Shaler in a first-round Quad-A playoff game at Fox Chapel High School.
The Mustangs had lost six straight playoff contests dating back to the WPIAL championship game against Peters Township in 2008 and had dropped four straight first-round games.
Included in that recent stretch was a heartbreaking 4-3, eight-inning loss to Shaler at Fox Chapel in 2010.
But with the pitching of senior ace Zac Manuppelli, strong defense behind him and just enough at the plate, Plum was able to break the streak Monday and punch its ticket to the WPIAL quarterfinals.
“This win was great for our program. We needed it,” Plum head coach Carl Vollmer said.
“We have been fighting through a lot of adversity with injuries. The guys really gutted this game out. It would've been nice to cruise to a victory, but in the end, we'll take it just the same.”
Plum improved to 15-6 on the season.
The Mustangs ended the regular season with losses in four of their final five games. Plum played the Quad-A tournament's No. 5, 9, 2 and 1 seeds in consecutive games.
The top seed is Seneca Valley, which toppled Plum, 7-3, in the Mustangs' regular-season finale.
With scouts from colleges such as Wright State, West Virginia, Canisius, IUP and the University of South Carolina-Upstate monitoring his pitching performance Monday, Manuppelli gave them something good to take with them.
He walked four batters, but he gave up only two hits, and Shaler's lone run of the game, which tied things up at one in the third inning, was unearned.
“Zac went out there and put us on his back,” Vollmer said.
“He carried us to a win today.”
Manuppelli struck out 10 Titans batters, and seven of the final eight outs recorded were by strikeout. He fanned the side in order in the sixth and sandwiched three strikeouts around a single in the seventh.
“At the beginning of the game, I didn't have my fastball the way I wanted,” Manuppelli said. “I wasn't spotting it well, and my velocity wasn't up. My curve ball felt good, so I led with that. In the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, my velocity was up, and I felt like I had more control. The crowd and my teammates screaming really pumped me up.”
Plum struck the first blow in the bottom of the first inning.
Senior Austin O'Block drew a leadoff walk on four pitches and advanced to second on a groundout by junior Zach Sansonetti.
O'Block then moved to third on a fly ball out to right off the bat of freshman Alex Kiriloff.
Junior Nick Stotler came up next and produced a clutch two-out single to bring home O'Block.
“We did a lot of good things on the basepaths,” Vollmer said. “Getting that run in the first to take the lead was important. It put a little pressure on Shaler at the start.”
Plum got the game winner in the fifth, but the Mustangs didn't produce a hit in the inning.
Senior Andrew Dawson walked to lead off the frame, and he moved to second on a grounder to short by O'Block.
Sansonetti then hit a sharp grounder back to Shaler pitcher Jake Potock, and Potock caught Dawson in a rundown between second and third.
Dawson broke to third, and Potock, who came over to get in on the rundown, tried to tag Dawson.
However, Dawson eluded the tag and reached third safely. The Shaler coaches and a couple of the Titans players protested the call by the umpire near the play, but the call stood.
Kiriloff drew an intentional walk to load the bases with one out.
Stotler came to the plate and delivered a ground ball to deep short. Titans shortstop Justin Mazza threw to second to get a force out, but Dawson came home for a 2-1 lead.
“Batters ahead of me did a nice job of getting on to give me a chance,” Stotler said. “It's a great feeling. We knew it was going to be a tough game (against Shaler). Everyone contributed.”
Plum had a couple of chances to tack on a few more runs.
A leadoff single by senior Tyler Podvasnik in the second inning was followed by three straight strikeouts.
In the third, Sansonetti singled and Kiriloff crushed a double to right field to put runners at second and third with one out. However, both Sansonetti and Kiriloff were left stranded.
Runners were left at second and third in the fifth inning as well.
Four Shaler runners were erased from the bases. Junior catcher Eric Bellasario threw out three of the Titans runners, while Manuppelli picked off another runner at first.
“Bellasario didn't allow one passed ball, and that was huge because Zac was throwing a ton of breaking balls,” Vollmer said. “Eric did a great job.”
Weather permitting, Plum was to take on No. 2 seed North Allegheny in the quarterfinals Wednesday afternoon.
The game was to be played past the deadline for this week's edition.
The Mustangs and Tigers met in a nonsection game May 4, and North Allegheny, the runner-up to Seneca Valley in Section 1, scored a 12-2 victory.
The Tigers opened the playoffs Monday with a 6-4 victory over Norwin.
WPIAL All-Star Game
The WPIAL Baseball Coaches Association will celebrate its 10th annual all-star baseball games on June 9 at Burkett Field in Robinson Township, and Manuppelli will continue a tradition of Plum participation in the event.
Manuppelli will pitch for the Quad-A all-star team against a group of stars from Class AAA. The big-school game is set for 4 p.m.
Eighty senior players will participate in the doubleheader, representing 57 different area high schools.
Four players, including Franklin Regional's Dan McGrath and Nick Vento, decline their invitations because of prior commitments.
The first game of the all-star doubleheader, pitting the WPIAL Class A all-stars against their counterparts from AA, will be at 1 p.m.
“I am so thrilled to represent Plum and be out there for my teammates and coaches,” Manuppelli said.
“At times, I didn't throw the way I wanted to this season, but my teammates were there to back me up. They helped me get this WPIAL honor, and I thank them for that.”
Manuppelli's solid performance against Shaler on Monday added to an already strong season resume.
He upped his strikeout total to 64 in 49 innings of work, and with no earned runs allowed, he lowered his earned-run average to 3.86.
Joining Manuppelli on the Quad-A team are Cameron Balego, P.J. DeMeo and Sebastian DeNardo from Section 3 rival Pittsburgh Central Catholic; Kevin Forrester and Frank Fortunato from Canon McMillan; Jimmy Divosevic and James Meeker from North Allegheny; Jonathan Dorogy and Brad Gresock from Seneca Valley; Zach Martinelli and Nathan Mori from Hempfield; Logan Corrigan and Dakota Forsyth from Bethel Park; Anthony Colondrea from Woodland Hills; Tyler Dubovich from Albert Gallatin; Chris Hawkins from Brashear; Mark Hollis from North Hills; Shea Sullivan from Pine-Richland; and Chris Watschak from Peters Township.
Players selected for the game will be honored at an awards banquet at 7 p.m. on June 10 at the Airport Marriott.
The banquet is open to the public. Contact Tony Villiotti at 412-429-0546 regarding banquet reservations.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.