Junior Legion players show Plum pride during busy summer of baseball

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Sunday, June 16, 2024 | 11:01 AM


Members of the Plum Junior League baseball team are playing a lot this month between their community team and travel baseball.

It is keeping them on their toes, and second-year coach Markus Cestra hopes that by the end of the month, his team, with players mostly from seventh through 10th grade, will be in prime position to be a factor in the league playoffs and contend for a spot in the regional tournament.

“We are getting better,” Cestra said. “With a number of guys playing AAU too, it’s a lot of baseball, and it’s a little hard sometimes to get some consistent pitching, but the guys are working through that and doing the best they can. When AAU starts to wind down by the end of June, we can work on that and make a nice push for the playoffs.”

Plum received strong pitching and some timely hitting in a game against Charleroi on June 12 at Plum High School.

Post 980 had endured a tough four-game losing streak before breaking out for a 7-1 victory over Charleroi in a Westmoreland County Youth Legion cross-division matchup.

Despite falling behind 1-0 in the first inning, Plum responded with a run in the second, three in the third, and single runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.

Post 980 collected six hits, and the defense overcame three errors.

Starting catcher Cameron Napierkowski, who also came on to pitch four innings of relief, collected two hits, one a double, drew a walk, drove in a run and scored once to help lead the Plum offense.

Left fielder Andy Verrengia singled and collected a pair of RBIs.

Brennan Ryan started on the mound and worked the first three innings. He gave up just one hit and walked four while striking out two.

Plum hoped to build on the positives from the Charleroi victory as it was set to host Monroeville on June 13. The teams also were to play June 17 at Gateway High School before Plum was to take on 14th Ward the next day at Eric Kelly Memorial Field in Stanton Heights.

Those three games were to be contested past the deadline for this week’s edition.

Each team in the league plays 15 regular season games, including a home-and-home series against each team in its division. The North features Plum, Monroeville, Trafford, Murrysville and 14th Ward.

All 10 teams in the league enter the playoffs, set to begin early next month, and will be seeded based on regular-season records for a shot at making the regional tournament and ultimately the state playoffs.

Plum, with the win over Charleroi, improved to 3-4 with a suspended game against Belle Vernon to be completed.

Cestra, who came on as head coach last year, said he is excited to work with this group and hopes it can make a winning run to the playoffs.

“I really enjoyed last year, and I coached a lot of them on the freshman team this past season at Plum, which was a lot of fun, too,” Cestra said.

“This is a great league to be in, and there are a bunch of great coaches around the league too. It is a pretty organized league, and we know the guys are getting to play some quality baseball against quality teams.”

Plum finished 9-8 last year and suffered a pair of losses in the double-elimination playoff tournament.

“We had a really young team last year, so we have a number of returning guys who are excited to get this team moving in the right direction,” Cestra said.

Three of the returning players are three-year team members in Verrengia, Ryan and Brady Linhart.

Also back from last year are Napierkowski, Grant Clark, William Peifer, Marques Brown and Jacob Scheible.

“You have to learn to be vocal a little bit and be a leader on and off the field with your actions and how you handle adversity,” Cestra said. “They all do a really good job with that.”

All the players, except for Brown who attends Penn Hills, are from Plum.

“That is a great thing when a team can be put together that represents the community,” said Cestra, who graduated from Plum and grew up playing for various Plum summer teams.

“A lot of these guys do go off and play for teams who are not Plum associated, but they know how important it is to have that community team with the Plum name on their jerseys. I always encourage them to go out in the community and help volunteer. It helps show who you are and that you care about where you live. I feel that is so important.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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