Plum baseball uses early playoff exit as learning experience

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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | 11:01 AM


When Trinity’s Logan Daniels tallied a two-run single for the final runs of a three-run top of the 11th inning in a WPIAL Class 5A first-round playoff game May 15 at Gateway, No. 5 Plum had its collective backs against the wall.

The Mustangs did the best they could to come back in the home half of the frame, but the deficit proved to be too large.

Plum scored once in its final at-bat, but the Hillers finished off a 6-4 upset to move on to the quarterfinals.

The Section 1 co-champion Mustangs’ season was over at 13-8.

“Everyone has been trying to move on, but there was definitely a lingering hurt that came with that,” Plum coach Carl Vollmer said. “For the seniors, it was their last game, and it was so sudden for them. You work all year long to reach that point. Preparation for Trinity didn’t start a couple days before. It started in the fall with the mission of getting back to the WPIAL playoffs and making a run.

“It’s always tough when a season ends in the playoffs, but that one was particularly tough for a variety of reasons. It sure was one of the toughest in my career, for sure.

“We felt we were in a position to win that game at various times. We left some opportunities out there that allowed (Trinity) to stay in the game. We didn’t swing the bats as well as we needed to, and we didn’t defend as well as we needed to. But we pitched pretty well.”

Senior Colin Watson started the game for Plum and gave up four hits, one earned run and two walks while striking out six.

Fellow senior Erik Streussnig came on in the sixth and threw 5 2/3 innings, surrendering seven hits and five earned runs while walking four and striking out eight.

Plum led 2-0 after one inning and 3-1 heading to the seventh. Trinity, down to its last strike in the inning, scored twice to send it to extras.

The Mustangs collected six hits, and sophomore outfielder Ryan Lafferty drove in a pair of runs. He hit a sacrifice fly for Plum’s fourth-inning run and singled home a run in the 11th to bring the tying run to the plate.

“Every experience has value,” Vollmer said. “This was a painful experience, but it has value, just from the understanding of how hard it is to get there and how quickly it can be over. The emotional roller coaster of that game is not unlike some other games. We were in a number of other games this year where that happened.”

Vollmer said he would like to see a possible series format come to high school baseball like what is done in the postseason for Division I college baseball and Major League Baseball.

“You play series all year, and then it’s one game, single elimination,” Vollmer said.

“Six-A, they play three-game series, and then have the one game in each round. Hopefully, in the near future, the WPIAL or PIAA will take a look at it. I think there would be time to squeeze a three-game series in. It could be done.”

Plum qualified for the playoffs out of a rugged section that featured competitive matchups against co-champions Penn-Trafford, Franklin Regional and Fox Chapel, as well as teams such as Armstrong and Gateway who had hoped to play spoiler in the stretch run.

“It was one of the deepest sections, you could argue, in any of the classifications,” Vollmer said. “It was a lot of fun to compete day-in and day-out and watch the scores of the other teams to see how they were competing. Every game was so impactful. You knew you had to be at the top of your game every week to be successful.

“I don’t know if that quality depth will be duplicated any time soon. The sections will change next year, and I am not sure what that will hold for us and the other teams in our section. The geographic closeness of the teams in the section made for some spirited games in a good way.”

Vollmer also pointed to the pride of having played a solid nonsection schedule against the likes of North Allegheny, Seneca Valley, Pine-Richland, Ringgold and Hempfield.

Vollmer said it is tough every year to say goodbye to the seniors, and this year, he said, is no exception. A group of 10, including five who started the playoff game against Trinity, will be moving on.

“This is one of the most enjoyable seasons I’ve had as a coach because of all the players, including this senior group,” Vollmer said. “The kids were fun. They were excited to be there. They worked hard. They rooted for one another. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth with losing so quickly in the playoffs because the season was a lot of fun, and I hated to see it end.

“All the seniors are going to be successful whether it be in baseball, academically, or in life. I really believe that. We’re going to miss them both on and off the field.”

With that, Vollmer said players such as Lafferty, third baseman Dan Macioce, second baseman Max Vollmer and shortstop Jake Dombkowski will be tasked with forming a nucleus in a lineup with big shoes to fill.

“This is the cycle that is high school sports,” Vollmer said.

“It is time for this next group to step up, and I am confident they will. We have to replace a lot of innings on the mound and several positions in the lineup. It will be fun to watch guys compete and develop in forming what the lineup will be next season. I believe we have a good program, and this is how it works.”

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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