Mustangs eye championship in shuffled Section 2-AAAA
Section 2-AAAA went through some big changes in the offseason, as section champion Franklin Regional moved over to Section 1, and Fox Chapel, the fourth-place team in the section last year, was bumped over to Section 3.
Plum is one of the favorites to take the section this year, but head coach Jim McGrath knows there will be challenges again from the likes of Gateway and 2012 WPIAL playoff qualifier McKeesport.
Oakland Catholic and Allderdice join the section this season.
“McKeesport will be strong again,” McGrath said. “They will be in there fighting like crazy to be section champs. We won't take them lightly. I am not sure what Gateway has at this point. They lost a lot to graduation, but they always have talent. Woodland Hills is more and more competitive. I know Oakland Catholic and Allderdice will be ready for the challenge.”
As teams do every year, Plum lost some key players to graduation. Another player, Taylor Johns, who was a threat at the plate for the Mustangs the past couple of seasons, didn't return to the team for her senior year.
The Mustangs finished 9-3 in section play last year and ended 13-5 overall after a tough loss to Latrobe in the first round of the WPIAL playoffs.
But McGrath knows there are a number of key pieces back to help Plum in its quest for another WPIAL playoff appearance.
“We've worked really hard to put ourselves in position to be section champs,” McGrath said.
“That's the goal every year. We're confident, but we can't take anyone lightly.”
Sophomore Jess Bitsura and senior Lyndi Gareis combined for 11 victories and 58 strikeouts in 84 innings in the pitching circle last year. McGrath said they both will be the main pitchers again this season.
“Lyndi and Jess really complement each other because they have different styles and techniques,” McGrath said.
Junior Melissa LeClair will take over at catcher for the graduated Hunter DeShong.
LeClair, primarily a third baseman last year, batted .341 with six extra base hits.
“She is a catcher on her tournament team, so she has experience there,” McGrath said.
“With her experience at third base, we can move her back and forth if we need to. She has a very strong arm and will be strong behind the plate.”
Junior Jordan Seneca, who competed in a couple of national showcases with LeClair in the offseason, is back at shortstop. She led the team with a .547 batting average last season and collected nine doubles, five triples and 23 runs batted in.
Senior Amy Flynn returns to second base to join Seneca for an experienced middle infield.
Junior Ashley Oravetz will be at first base, a position she saw varsity action at last year.
Junior Karlie Serakowski is in the mix at third base.
Serakowski spent the past two years at Cheswick Christian, but she played in the Plum softball program in junior high. McGrath said she also has travel-team experience and could be used as a pitcher.
The outfield features senior Annie Workman in center and junior Stella Pratt a leading candidate for left field.
McGrath said senior Savannah Zummo is in the running for right field, as well as returning player Kaitlyn Mallik, a sophomore.
Zummo comes over to the Plum softball team after running track the past couple of seasons. McGrath said Zummo, who has softball experience with the Predators tournament team, has a lot of speed.
Sophomore Rachael Adamski, McGrath said, could fit in as an extra player in the batting order, as a backup third baseman or on the pitching staff.
If the weather and field conditions permit, Plum is scheduled to kick off its season Friday at 4 p.m. with a nonsection game at Butler.
Following its section debut at McKeesport on Monday at 3:30 p.m., the Mustangs are slated to play their first regular-season game at their new high school field on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. against section newcomer Oakland Catholic.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at email@example.com.