Dilonardo takes over as coach of Plum softball team
By: Michael Love
Friday, February 1, 2019 | 7:48 PM
Phil Dilonardo spent the past eight seasons as an assistant coach with the Plum varsity softball team.
So, when the head coaching position opened with the resignation of Jim McGrath at the end of the 2018 campaign, Dilonardo staked his claim to stay with the program he’s grown to care about a great deal.
After the search process was complete, the Plum School District hired Dilonardo at its board meeting Jan. 22.
“Knowing the program and the players made for a smoother transition,” Dilonardo said. “There’s a comfort level for the kids and for me.”
McGrath stepped down after 11 seasons at the helm of the Plum varsity team. He cited work and family as the main reasons for making the move.
“He didn’t talk about (resigning) last season,” Dilonardo said. “I was surprised.”
The team was busy in the fall with workouts, and it also took part in a tournament at Belle Vernon. Dilonardo and another assistant, John Forsythe, stayed with the team while the district decided on McGrath’s replacement.
“It was important to keep them rolling,” Dilonardo said. “It’s always interesting in the fall because you have the kids coming up from junior high and the returning players, and you want to see how they start to mix together. There was no doubt we were going to continue with it until they made the decision on the new coach.”
From what he observed in the fall, Dilonardo said he expects some surprises and some good things from the team.
“I expect a lot out of them, and they expect a lot out of themselves,” he said. “There are going to be some spots in the lineup up for grabs. There’s going to be some younger kids challenging the upperclassmen for playing time. We also have a couple of players coming back from injuries, and that should make us stronger. There’s a very experienced core, and hopefully we can build around that. Things are progressing well.”
The core features the likes of Towson verbal commit Mackenzie Lake, a junior shortstop; senior catcher Gabby Fischetti, a Northwest Florida State Junior College signee; and senior starting pitcher Abbey Froehlich.
Fischetti and Lake were selected to the Section 1-5A all-star team for their efforts in the 2018 season.
“It’s been a smooth transition,” Lake said. “It won’t be a new system, but we’re going to change up a few things. It’s good to have a familiar face there, especially for the younger players and the freshmen coming up. We’re happy he’s still with us and coaching us. We’re ready to get going with the season.”
Preseason practices begin March 4, and the first play date is March 22.
Plum is hoping to return to the WPIAL playoffs after coming up one game short in the section race for the postseason last spring. It marked the end of a streak of nine consecutive playoff appearances.
The Mustangs will deal with Gateway, Hampton, Mars, Oakland Catholic, Penn Hills, Shaler and Woodland Hills in a revamped Section 2-5A.
Mars, Hampton and Gateway were playoff qualifiers last year.
“We want to get back to the playoffs, and we have the players who can do it,” Dilonardo said.
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at email@example.com or via Twitter @MLove_Trib.