Plum's miscues prove costly in playoff loss to Baldwin
Plum and Baldwin had their proms Friday night. Plum's baseball team still was slow-dancing Saturday.
Another bad inning was all it took to oust the Mustangs from the WPIAL Class AAAA playoffs and cost them their third straight loss to Baldwin, 14-4, in a miscue-filled quarterfinal game called after five innings because of the 10-run mercy rule at West Mifflin.
“It got out of control,” Plum coach Carl Vollmer said. “I think that's the first time in my career where three innings, I don't want to say defined our season, but had such a significant effect on it.
“There was this game, the other time we played them and the Central (Catholic) game. I'm still a little in shock.”
This wasn't the way a promising team, one that Vollmer thought had similar potential to the 2007 and '08 groups that made the WPIAL semifinals, saw things ending. Baldwin (15-2), the No. 2 seed, already kicked sand in Plum's face twice in Section 3-AAAA, using a nine-run first inning and 17 hits in the team's second meeting to post a 12-6 win.
This time, with both teams coming off 2-1 wins Friday, No. 10 Plum (15-6) thought things might be different. And after taking a 4-3 lead into the third, that thought held strong.
Then the scorebook got messy.
Baldwin sent 16 batters to the plate in the drawn-out home half of the inning. It scored 11 runs on five hits, walked five times and took advantage of four Plum errors.
“When they made a couple of mistakes, we had to capitalize. It was like deja vu (from the first game),” said Baldwin coach Dan Caponi, whose Highlanders advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2005. “Trust me, we've been on the other end of something like that. It's not fun. It's a snowball effect.”
Baldwin chased Plum sophomore starter Ethan Winesburg with no outs in the third after Chris Eisel's RBI single tied it 4-4. Plum went with junior Nick Satovich and made several defensive switches. Senior Nick Stotler moved from first to shortstop. Winesburg went to center field, and Alex Kiriloff, who hit a two-run homer in the first, went to first base.
Baldwin seemed immune to the changes. The Highlanders loaded the bases and began stacking runs, scoring three straight on errors and a single by Morgan Schmitt (3 for 4, two RBIs) to go up 9-4.
“We were behind in the count with every hitter,” Vollmer said. “You can't have success doing that. We weren't throwing our secondary pitches for strikes. Our defense had some breakdowns, and that's not like us.”
An error during a rundown and another on a putout attempt followed, and Plum brought in another reliever, Phil Mahr. But Baldwin kept the offense coming. Zach Murray (three runs scored) ripped a two-run double to make it 12-4. Nick Bernick, the winning pitcher for the second time in as many days, followed with a two-run single.
Plum gave up 24 earned runs to Baldwin in three meetings.
Plum, which muted Norwin's prolific offense Friday, went peacefully in the fourth and kept Baldwin scoreless in the bottom of the inning. But an uneventful fifth for the Mustangs secured the win for Baldwin, which won just five games last season but returned nine starters.
Mike Maleski had two hits and an RBI double, and Winesburg double twice and scored two runs.
Tom McCarthy had two hits, and five players scored at least two runs for Baldwin.
“Plum has a great program, and they have some young guys who, I'm sure, will learn from this,” Caponi said. “We didn't want to give their guys too many chances. I was worried with the prom last night that our guys might have celebrated too much.”
Baldwin celebrated post-prom, too, and stayed on course for the real big dance.
Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.