Plum baseball focuses on mental approach
Earlier this season, Plum climbed to the No. 1 spot in the Tribune-Review News Service Class AAAA baseball rankings, then, admittedly lost its focus.
The Mustangs were 8-1 at the time but dropped three of four Section 4-AAAA games to plummet out of the top five.
Suddenly, a highly regarded team was in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. That prompted coach Carl Vollmer to search for answers.
"We needed something to motivate us," Vollmer said.
Vollmer decided to avoid over-analyzing any of Plum's physical flaws and to focus on the mental side.
Then he called for a new name out of the bullpen — yoga.
"We got knocked around and had that rough patch," senior catcher C.J. Stotler said. "When coach told us he wanted us to try yoga, some of us laughed about it. But now, we realize it's something that can help us out."
Deep-thinking Plum, which has since resurfaced at No. 4 in the rankings, has gathered for a few hour-long sessions, following poses and meditation techniques from a Web video.
Three of Plum's top players, Stotler, Zack Klein and Nick Manupelli, know all about Internet clips.
All three had key roles in Plum's Web-sensation YouTube video in support of Penguins hockey.
A for-fun class project turned into a popular and much-talked-about lip-dub that has drawn more than 140,000 views.
Now, yoga also is gaining popularity at Plum. It might have played a role in the team rallying from its midseason dip and finishing 8-4 in section to qualify for the WPIAL playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.
"I talked to a buddy of mine (Penn Hills assistant boys basketball coach Mark Feaux) about trying to break things up," Vollmer said. "We came up with yoga. It's about breathing and staying in the moment. All you can control is the very next pitch. There's a reason LeBron James does it and so many pro athletes actively participate in it."
Plum conducted a yoga session Tuesday when an outdoor practice was rained out.
"When we first approached doing it, we had some smirks and giggles," Vollmer said. "You only get what you put into it. When I turned the video on the first time, the room went dead silent."
Plum (14-5) will learn its seeding and first-round opponent Friday when the WPIAL releases playoff pairings.
Vollmer believes Plum can be a factor in the postseason. The Mustangs aren't loaded with stars but have game-savvy players who work well together as a whole.
The team's five losses — two to Gateway and one each to Shaler, Central Catholic and Woodland Hills — taught Plum a lot about itself.
And whether it was yoga or the simple realization that they could play with any team that fueled their playoff push, the Mustangs seemed to have learned a lesson.
"We've been playing well the last few weeks," Vollmer said. "We went through a real down period. We were on a roll and had people coming up to us and telling us how great we were. Then we hit that tough stretch, and we talked about how fast things can be taken away in a week."
Plum is 4-2 against other playoff teams from its section, including a sweep of co-champion Penn Hills.
The Mustangs also knocked off No. 1-ranked North Allegheny, a perennial power, in nonsection play.
"We have a solid five guys that have been playing together for 14 years," said Stotler, who was a sophomore two years ago when Plum reached the WPIAL final before losing to Peters Township. "We have a bond that I think a lot of teams don't have."
Pitching and defense have been strong suits for the Mustangs, who have a team ERA of 3.94.
Offensively, they are hitting .337 with 10 home runs and are averaging 8.9 runs in games they win.
Stotler leads Plum with a .560 batting average, three home runs and 29 RBI.
Klein and Manuppelli are a combined 8-3, with 51 strikeouts apiece.
"We're capable of beating a lot of teams," Vollmer said. "Quad-A is up in the air. I don't think there's anybody out there that is a supreme talent. Our margin for error is very small. If we don't play well, anybody can beat us. It's interesting."
Stotler admits the team talks about rankings but only for short stints.
"As a player, you want to see where you're at," he said. "But you have to block it out."