Plum blanks Armstrong in return from covid pause

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Monday, May 10, 2021 | 8:44 PM


The Plum softball team hadn’t played a game in two weeks before Monday’s crucial Section 1-5A matchup at Armstrong.

The Mustangs defeated Franklin Regional on April 26, but then went on a covid pause. But they didn’t let the layoff affect them as they scored early and rode the pitching of senior Melanie Meinke to a 5-0 victory over the River Hawks.

“We talked about it Saturday in practice that we might be rusty or we might not be,” said Plum coach Phil DiLonardo, who watched his team improve to 9-3 overall and 7-1 in the section with a senior-day matchup against Kiski Area set for Tuesday.

“I told them that they were going to have to just come out and play their game, and they did that. We got the hits we needed, and Melanie pitched a great game. It was a great win for us.”

Plum, which completed the season sweep of the River Hawks, will play Penn Hills on Wednesday, and it might have to play two against Woodland Hills as the section slate comes to a close.

Armstrong (10-4 overall) fell to 8-2 in the section with games against Penn Hills on Tuesday and Indiana on Wednesday remaining.

“We told the girls that sometimes, it’s not your day,” Armstrong coach Doug Flanders said. “Give Plum credit. They were the better team today. There’s that chance we could see them again.”

Plum got all the runs it needed in the top of the first.

With one out, Jillian Durst and Fran Beighley drew walks, bringing cleanup hitter Makenzie Lang to the plate.

The sophomore first baseman delivered.

Lang clubbed her sixth home run of the season over the right-center field fence off of Armstrong starter Julia Hetrick to stake the Mustangs to a 3-0 lead.

“From the first pitch, I always look for my pitch to hit,” said Lang, who also has a team-best 18 RBIs.

“She wanted to get ahead in the count, and I just wanted to rocket it and help my team score runs. I was put in a situation with runners on, and I knew I had to hit it and prove my point that I could come through in that situation.”

DiLonardo marveled at Lang’s shot.

“It was gone as soon as it left her bat,” he said. “Every home run she’s hit this year has been exactly like that, a no-doubter. She has a lot of power, and if you make a mistake, she’s gonna make you pay.”

Plum added two more runs in the second. Maura Marston started it off with a one-out single, and Jillian Durst reached on an error.

Fran Beighley followed with a single to right to score Marston. Durst then came home when the Armstrong right fielder bobbled the ball.

Lang then was walked intentionally, and Ashley Polakovic drew a walk to load the bases. That chased Hetrick in favor of reliever Cameryn Sprankle.

Sprankle struck out Jaralyn Kincaid and Melanie Meinke to end the Plum threat. She also retired the side in the third and struck out seven and walked two in her 523 innings.

“To be honest, I didn’t think 5-0 was going to be enough,” DiLonardo said. “(Sprankle) did a nice job to keep us off the board. I thought it might be one of those 7-6, 8-6 games like it was the first time we played them. We know they can put a lot of runs on the board.”

The five runs were more than enough for Meinke and the Plum defense.

Meinke retired the first 13 batters before Armstrong left fielder Jenna Clontz singled with one out in the fifth.

Riley Kilgore singled with two outs to put runners on first and second, but Meinke won an extended battle with Nicole Benvenuti, striking her out on the 12th pitch of the at-bat to squash the threat.

“It was really nice to have that cushion,” Meinke said about pitching with that early lead. “It was a great feeling to have my teammates’ support early on and throughout the game. I knew I could trust my defense to make a play if (Armstrong batters) hit it.”

Meinke gave up four hits in the complete game. She struck out seven and walked none.

“She shut us down today,” Flanders said.

“She was creating a lot of miss-hits. She was moving to the corners, changing speeds. She had us off balance. Give her credit because no one has done that to us this year.”

Armstrong scored more than 10 runs seven times this season and had nine runs on two other occasions.

Plum finished with seven hits. Durst and Beighley had four of those hits with two singles apiece.

Cassidy Adams doubled for Armstrong with two outs in the bottom of the seventh, but she was stranded at second as Meinke got Kilgore to pop out to second to end the game.

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

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