Plum baseball looks to continue success

| Wednesday, March 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Not many schools in the WPIAL can match the sustained level of success achieved by Plum's baseball team for more than a decade.

The Mustangs have qualified for the WPIAL playoffs 11 of the past 12 years, last missing the post-season back in 2006, which was also the last time Plum had a losing season.

During that 12-year stretch the Mustangs have won or shared eight section championships.

Plum's current streak of seven consecutive playoff appearances is the longest in the WPIAL among Class AAAA schools.

Head coach Carl Vollmer, who has been with the Mustangs for 10 years, says the winning environment at Plum is the result of the dedication and commitment of the players throughout the year.

Building a consistently successful program begins at an early age in Plum.

“Baseball and softball is such a big part of the community, from the youth leagues all the way up,” Vollmer said.

The 2014 Mustangs are looking to make it eight years in a row in the WPIAL playoffs.

“This team has a lot of depth,” Vollmer said. “We'll be very competitive.”

Vollmer's lineup will include many of the players who helped Plum go undefeated in winning the varsity division of the Western Pennsylvania Fall Baseball League last fall.

“Hopefully, that momentum carries over into the spring season,” Vollmer said.

Plum returns a number of players from last year's team, which went 15-7 and reached the quarterfinals of the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs. The Mustangs finished third in Section 3-AAAA a year ago.

The Mustangs, who batted .338 as a team and averaged 6.5 runs per game in 2013, should be strong again offensively. Leading the way will be four-year starter Nick Stotler and three-year starter Mike Maleski, both seniors.

Stotler, who will start at third base, hit .423 with nine doubles and 17 runs batted in as a junior. Maleski, a standout second baseman, led Plum in on-base percentage (.545) and slugging percentage (.714) while batting .482 and finishing second on the team with 18 runs scored.

Another big bat for the Mustangs will be sophomore Alex Kirilloff, a Liberty University recruit. He led Plum in RBIs as a freshman with 19 and also batted .435 with 10 doubles and two home runs.

“Alex is a very high level player,” Vollmer said. “And he's very versatile. He'll pitch for us and we'll use him in the infield and the outfield.”

Junior shortstop Brian Albert will again provide a steady presence in the infield. Injuries limited him to only 11 games in 2013, but he batted .359 and scored 16 runs.

Junior Nick Satovich is likely to share time at first base with Kirilloff. Plum should have depth behind the plate with seniors Eric Bellisario and Dante Palmieri and junior Jake Mitolo.

The leading candidates for spots in the outfield include Kirilloff, senior Zach Sansonetti (.333 average, 13 runs scored), senior Will Kirkpatrick (.400 average), senior Alex Tishko, sophomore Ethan Winesburgh (.400 average) and sophomore Taylor Vivino.

Plum has sent a pitcher to the WPIAL all-star game every year since 2008, including Zach Manupelli in 2013.

Manupelli and David Cross, who combined for 80 innings as seniors, have graduated, leaving Vollmer with only two pitchers who threw more than six innings last season.

Kirilloff, who went 3-2 with a 2.25 earned run average while striking out 33 in 28 innings, has a chance to be Plum's ace. Palmieri also brings experience to the mound, going 3-1 with a 3.67 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 21 innings in 2013.

Stotler and senior Brandon Hoener, who also will play some third base, are expected to take on a bigger pitching workload. The rest of the pitching staff includes senior Matt Gunsalius and sophomores Winesburgh, Vivino and Zach Nolan.

Plum's team will again make its annual spring trip to Florida, traveling to St. Petersburg March 26-30. The Mustangs will play two scrimmages and three games, including a doubleheader at McKechnie Field, the spring training home of the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“We've been doing this for about seven years. It's a great trip for the kids,” Vollmer said. “It's an amazing opportunity for them to get to play two games at McKechnie Field. It's an awesome facility.”

Plum opens play in the WPIAL on April 1 against Mt. Lebanon.

Dave Schrecengost is a freelancer writer.

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