Getting chance to play is great, but Plum’s WPBL team gunning for a title, too

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Monday, June 29, 2020 | 10:12 PM


Denny Ayres is getting ready to attend West Virginia with a mechanical and aerospace engineering course of study.

College baseball is not in his plans.

He hoped successful high school and American Legion seasons would be part of his final year before moving on to Morgantown. Those plans were dashed when both were canceled in early April.

When hope for summer baseball appeared lost, the Western Pennsylvania Baseball League stepped up, and Ayres, along with teammates from Plum and experienced players from Penn Hills and Shady Side Academy, hope to make the most of this second chance throughout the next month.

“We all grinded hard throughout the winter, and we all were upset we had our (high school) seasons taken away,” said Ayres, who finished 3 for 3 with a pair of doubles and five RBI sin Plum’s 11-0 victory at Jeannette last week to begin the WPBL season.

“There is a lot of experience on this team, and a lot of us have played together for so long. I think that’s why we should be successful in this league. Even though it’s not the high school season, this is still something to work hard for. It’s awesome just to have this chance.”

In the WPBL, which got rolling with a detailed planning meeting between coaches and league officials June 10, most teams have large representation from spring high school squads. Some, such as the Independent Players coached by Valley’s Jim Basilone, consist of players from multiple WPIAL schools.

Plum’s roster includes a core of eight seniors from the high school team: Ayres, Collin Anderson, Darian Bassett, Logan Foster, Jared Hoener, Danny McCaffrey, Devin Ranegar and Logan Schlegel.

Ranegar earned the win against Jeannette, striking out 11 and allowing one hit over four innings.

“I’ve been with them for four years, so I wanted to coach them one more time this summer,” said Tyler Podvasnik, Plum’s summer coach and an assistant Mustangs varsity coach since 2016.

“The seniors are just an all-around good group of guys. They’ve been pretty close for a long time. We felt, with these seniors, we would have a pretty strong spring season. We also had a decent amount of younger guys step up over the winter, too.”

Podvasnik said the inclusion of recent Penn Hills graduates A.J. Collins and Max Oliveri and Shady Side Academy rising senior Billy Dunleavy made the team that much stronger.

“This summer league is probably the best thing that could happen to them,” Podvasnik said.

“When I found out about the league, I jumped on it because I wanted the kids to play. We started to get everything together quickly. We had the first meeting of all the coaches, scheduled the games, got a roster together, started practicing and had our first game. It was quite a quick turnaround.”

Podvasnik said the two practices before the opener were positive.

“It was nice to be back on the field,” he said. “The first practice was quick. I wanted to get together and talk about some of the things with the league and how I was going to approach coaching this team. The second practice was a full-go with batting and fielding drills.”

Podvasnik said he knew the team would start fast because of the way they worked to prepare.

“In those practices, they were with their friends, but they weren’t out there messing around,” he said. “They were focused on getting ready for these games. They want to win this.

“I keep telling them, ‘Why not go out and win?’ If we go out there, we might as well work as hard as we can to win.”

Rules were modified for the WPBL. There is no pitch count, no mandatory days rest, no roster limit, free substitution and batting orders that include between nine and 12 players. If a game is tied after seven innings, there will be one extra inning with a runner on third with no outs.

The regular season is scheduled to end July 24, followed by a postseason tournament.

“There’s a lot of hands in this and a lot of big sponsors for this league,” Podvasnik said. “What they are doing for the kids is unbelievable. At the end, there’s going to be a showcase game before the championship, which will be open to any college coaches and scouts.”

Podvasnik said Plum’s schedule is fluid, with games still to be set. CCAC Boyce’s field in Plum could be available for home games as early as Wednesday. Plum is slated to face the Independent Players on Thursday at Valley and also will play games against Pittsburgh Central Catholic, the Summer Rams (Highlands), Kiski Area, Franklin Regional and Gateway.

“We just have to prepare ourselves for any situation,” Podvasnik said, “I think we are going to be OK.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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