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Plum navigating through unpredictable section

| Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012, 8:55 p.m.
Plum Advance Leader
Plum senior Shane Rings led the team in goals with three through the first six games. Gary Bills | Plum Advance Leader

Every season, varsity boys soccer teams in Section 3-AAA know how unpredictable things can be.

This season is no exception, as Plum and the other six squads battle for positioning and the three WPIAL playoff spots.

The Mustangs entered this week 1-1-1 in section.

A tie with Allderdice, a big home win over Pittsburgh Central Catholic and a frustrating loss to Fox Chapel last week brought that into perspective for the Plum players and head coach Mike Baleno.

“There is a lot of parity in this section,” Baleno said. “Nothing really surprises me at this point. It seems like every year, one or two teams step up. From the records, you can see that everyone beats up on everyone else in the section.”

Plum was slated to play Woodland Hills on Tuesday and the game was to be contested past the deadline for this week's edition.

Gateway is up next for the Mustangs, and Plum hosts the Gators on Saturday at 2 p.m.

“At the end of this week, we will have a much clearer idea of where everyone stands in the section and who will be on top going into the second half,” Baleno said.

The Gators started section play with wins over Penn Hills and Woodland Hills, but a 6-0 loss to Central Catholic last Thursday put a damper on their section start.

Gateway, which faced coaching turmoil midway through last season and finished 3-9 in the section, was scheduled to face Allderdice on Tuesday.

“Gateway looks good so far, from what I've seen,” Baleno said. “They have a lot of veteran leadership who helped that team through a rough time. They are a new team this year. (New head coach Chris Duda) has come in and done a good job.

“Gateway's trying to re-establish themselves as one of the top two or three teams in the section just like they were two or three years ago. It's always a battle with them and one of our rivalries. But in this section, it seems like every game is a rivalry.”

Plum was unable to get its offense fully going in a 1-0 loss to Fox Chapel on Sept. 11.

“Both teams played well in the first half, and it was a good game back and forth,” Baleno said.

“They scored off a corner kick five minutes into the second half, and for about 15 to 20 minutes in the second half, we had a tough time refocusing. By the time we got back into our game, it was almost too late. Fox Chapel is one of the better teams in the section as far as getting organized defensively. They don't make a lot of mistakes, and they don't give you a lot of opportunities offensively. It's hard to break them down sometimes. We just didn't create a lot of opportunities after we gave up that goal.”

Plum's offense produced six goals in four games through the contest with the Foxes.

Senior Shane Rings had three of those goals, while fellow senior Matt Baleno tallied a goal and contributed three assists.

Freshman Ryan Smith established himself early and scored a goal in his first varsity game, and senior Colin Smith also owns a goal.

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at mlove@tribweb.com.

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