Plum reliever shuts door on South Fayette in Class 5A quarterfinals

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Monday, May 22, 2023 | 10:14 PM


Plum relief pitcher Colin Watson isn’t so worried about how things start but rather how they finish.

The Mustangs maybe had a rough beginning to this season, but they’re now headed to the WPIAL semifinals after their top reliever pitched three scoreless innings Monday night.

Watson entered with a one-run lead and saw five batters reach base, but the 6-foot-5 junior stranded them all as No. 4 Plum defeated No. 5 South Fayette, 5-4, in a Class 5A quarterfinal at Gateway.

“He’s got guts,” Plum coach Carl Vollmer said. “We call it something else, but he’s got guts. Nothing seems to faze him. He’s pretty cool. He’s been that way the whole second half of the season.”

A few at-bats captured his resilience.

In the sixth inning, with two runners on, Watson sprinted off the mound, scooped a roller along the first-base line and made a twisting throw for the second out.

Then with runners on second and third, he fell behind a batter 3-0, yet battled back for an inning-ending strikeout.

In the seventh, with the potential tying runner on second, he ended the game with another called strike three.

“I know I’ve just got to fill up the strike zone,” Watson said. “After every pitch, I was taking a couple of deep breaths to calm myself down because the crowd got me into it a lot.”

Plum (14-7) will face No. 1 seed Shaler (17-4) in the semifinals at 4 p.m. Tuesday at North Allegheny. This is Plum’s first appearance in the final four since 2016, when the Mustangs reached the WPIAL finals behind current major leaguer Alex Kirilloff.

Remarkably, Plum started its season 3-6.

“We’ve won (11 of 12), and our guys are playing with some confidence,” Vollmer said. “Our guys want it. It’s exciting. You saw the community support. There were a lot of people here from Plum.”

South Fayette (16-5) was trying to reach the semifinals for the first time since winning the WPIAL 4A title in 2018. The Lions held a 4-2 lead in the fourth inning Monday, before Plum rallied with three runs in the bottom of the inning.

Plum’s Sean Franzi hit a tying two-run single and later scored the go-ahead run. That run support earned starting pitcher Brady Dojonovic the win. Dojonovic in four innings allowed six hits — all singles — and walked three.

“That’s been our formula: Brady and Colin,” Vollmer said.

South Fayette starter Tyler Pitzer, a South Carolina recruit, allowed five runs on five hits. Only three of the five runs were earned. He walked three and struck out eight.

Pitzer ran into trouble in the fourth inning when six of seven Plum batters reached base. The Mustangs chased him from the mound with three walks and three singles.

“(Pitzer) is good, really good,” Vollmer said. “We juiced up our machine all weekend to get ready for his fastball. We were able to grind it out.”

Jack Anderson drew a leadoff walk, Daniel Macioce hit a one-out single and Carson Svidron walked to load the bases. That set up Franzi for his two-run single. He later scored on Beyer’s RBI single to center.

“Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t,” South Fayette coach Kenny Morgan said. “It’s hard to put that in perspective for 18-year-olds or younger, but I’m proud of Tyler and what he’s brought to the program over the past four years.”

Plum’s fourth-inning rally left Dojonovic sitting in the Plum dugout for a while, so Vollmer decided to use Watson in the fifth. Watson allowed one hit, two walks and hit one batter but kept South Fayette scoreless.

“He’s a guy we rely on,” Vollmer said. “We knew we were going to him. He knew we were going to him at some point. That’s his job. He came in and did it well.”

Watson throws mostly two pitches, a fastball and curveball. But his ability Monday to follow an errant pitch with a well-placed strike left South Fayette’s hitters guessing.

“I think that’s what kind of kept us off balance and would’ve kept anybody else off balance,” said Morgan, describing Watson as “effectively inconsistent.”

“One pitch in the dirt and the next is a strike,” Morgan said. “Kudos to that kid. Obviously, he knows himself.”

Plum capitalized on two South Fayette errors and led 2-0 in the first inning. South Fayette answered with one run in the third and three in the fourth, but the Lions’ 4-2 lead was short-lived.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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