Plum pitchers quiet Norwin hitters in first-round matchup
The blustery weather Friday reminded Plum coach Carl Vollmer of 2008, when his team made a run to the WPIAL Class AAAA championship game. So did the Mustangs' performance in their opening-round game against Norwin.
Using strong pitching, defense and baserunning, No. 10 Plum gutted out a 2-1 victory over No. 7 Norwin (14-4) at Woodland Hills.
The Mustangs (15-5) advanced to the Class AAAA quarterfinals, where they will meet section rival Baldwin at 4 p.m. Saturday at West Mifflin.
“Those games weren't easy, either — they were all nailbiters,” Vollmer said. “Believe me, I wish we had a 7-1 (or) 8-3 win. I don't want to live this way — I'm getting old fast because of it — but at this point, in a 16-team tournament, (you have to) survive and advance.”
A pair of sophomore pitchers neutralized Norwin, one of the top offenses in the WPIAL. Alex Kiriloff and Zachary Nolan held the Knights to three hits and kept Arizona recruit J.J. Matijevic — the WPIAL's leader in batting average, home runs and RBIs — hitless in four at-bats.
“He's the most elite hitter in the WPIAL, without a question of a doubt,” Vollmer said. “They're the best offensive team in the WPIAL. We had a plan coming in today. We knew what we wanted to do. Fortunately, we executed it.”
Kiriloff pitched five innings, allowing three hits, three walks and a hit batter and striking out four. Nolan pitched the final two innings, giving up a walk but striking out two.
“I tried to work in on a lot of guys,” said Kiriloff, a Liberty recruit. “I guess they've been hitting more away the whole year. I tried a different approach, and it worked.”
The Mustangs' infield also turned in a pair of sparkling plays. Third baseman Brandon Hoener atoned for an error when he stopped Nick Amendola's hard-hit ground ball and threw him out at first to strand a runner at second in the fifth inning, and second baseman Michael Maleski robbed Matijevic of a hit with a diving stop in the seventh.
Norwin lost its opening playoff game for the third straight season. The Knights left eight runners on base, including four in scoring position. As a team, Norwin batted 1 for 7 with runners in scoring position.
“The disappointing thing offensively was that (Kiriloff) was having trouble with his offspeed pitches, so essentially he was just throwing the fastball for strikes,” Norwin coach Mike Liebdzinski said. “Those are the type of situations we think we can take advantage of, and we just didn't for whatever reason. It's getting to be too much of a theme for us, but we just didn't perform.”
After Norwin left the bases loaded in the top of the first, Plum took advantage in the bottom half of the inning. Maleski reached on an infield single, moved to third on a wild pickoff attempt by Noah Smith and scored on Kiriloff's single.
Norwin tied it up in the second, when Dan Passarello's two-out single drove in Kevin Kuhn. But Plum retook the lead in the bottom half when Zach Sansonetti walked, moved to third on Hoener's single and scored on a balk with two outs.