Despite losses of key players, Plum baseball aims to contend again
Sunday, March 17, 2019 | 7:42 PM
During his tenure as Plum’s baseball coach, Carl Vollmer has aimed to perpetuate his team’s culture.
“It’s just an understanding of how to win baseball games,” Vollmer said. “I believe we have the culture to win. I just think it’s getting each and every kid to learn that and getting it to trickle down to the next team the next year and I think we have that. It’s a deep understanding of baseball and trying to play at a higher level than our opponent.”
That culture has paid off, and the Mustangs haven’t missed the playoffs since the 2006 season. Last year, they finished with a record of 16-5 and took second in Section 2-6A (7-3). But Plum lost in the WPIAL quarterfinals to Canon-McMillan, which went on to win the WPIAL and PIAA titles.
The end of the 2018 season also brought the graduation of several seniors who were key contributors. It also allowed several other players to gain experience, understand what it took to succeed in those types of moments and, ultimately, prepared them for this season.
“As far as this year is concerned, it’s definitely something we can build on,” Vollmer said. “We have a lot of guys who were in the dugout for that loss, and they got a sense of what it takes to advance further, which is ultimately our goal every single year. Our standards never change.”
The Mustangs had a lot of turnover since last season. Some of the new players might turn out to be big contributors, but a core group also returns.
It starts with senior left-hander Gino Marra. The UNC-Asheville commit ate up big innings last season and pitched in a number of high-leverage situations, including that 2-1 loss to Canon-McMillan in the WPIAL quarterfinals.
Also returning are Evan Sante, who will be a big contributor in the middle of the batting order, and Brody Simmons, who will pitch and catch. Vollmer said he believes the roster is filled with untapped talent and players eager to prove themselves.
“I think people may look at our senior class last year and think we may not be as good as what we’ve been in the past because of what we lost,” Vollmer said. “But I tell these guys every day that it comes down to not who we play, but how we play. And if we play well, we have enough baseball knowledge and experience to compete with anyone.”
Along with the older talent like Marra, Simmons and Sante, Vollmer has a few young players he believes could challenge for starting spots. One of them is freshman Evan Kircher, and a freshman starting at Plum is something that doesn’t happen often.
“He’s competing for our shortstop position, and we haven’t had many freshmen in our program over the years that have competed for varsity playing time. It’s a rare thing, and the ones that do have gone on to be great players,” Vollmer said.
Vollmer said the 6-foot-1 Kircher is advanced defensively and is continues to improve at the plate. But, most importantly, he is physically ready to contribute at the varsity level.
“I think that’s the biggest thing for any ninth-grader to compete at the varsity level,” Vollmer said. “A lot of them have skill. They just aren’t as physically prepared to compete against 18-year-old men.”
While the Mustangs have the talent necessary to be competitive, they have some holes to fill. Vollmer said there will be a competition at almost every position.
Vollmer believes competition within the team will result in improvement across the board. But in order to be successful, the Mustangs will have to focus on the small things.
“It’s really important that we talk about precision in our game,” Vollmer said.
“Anticipating things, thinking at a little bit of a higher level, communicating in the dugout and on the field on an at-bat to at-bat basis. And I do think getting the kids to understand to the level of preparation to be great are going to have to be the things that drive us.”
The Mustangs will open their season with a trip to Florida.