Plum senior trio caps career in WPIAL softball playoffs

Sunday, May 21, 2023 | 11:01 AM

As the No. 8 and No. 9 seeds for the WPIAL Class 5A softball playoffs, Thomas Jefferson and Plum, many expected, would play a close and competitive first-round game.

That is what played out May 15 at Gateway High School.

The Jaguars grabbed a two-run lead before Plum rallied to go up three heading to the bottom half of the seventh.

That is when TJ erupted for five runs with the winning tallies coming on a grand slam to earn the 8-6 victory.

It was a bitter and sudden end to what head coach Phil DiLonardo called a strong season for his youthful team with three seniors and a host of young talent in the lineup.

“The seeds did dictate that the game was going to be competitive, and it was,” he said. “We played well, and TJ did also. It came down to the last inning.

“It’s hard every year when the season ends. It’s especially hard when it ends like it did that day. The coaches and players put a lot of time and effort into what we do. You want to keep playing and stay together because of the bonds that you make. It’s really tough for the seniors. It was tough to see everyone as emotional as they were after the game.”

Plum, which qualified for the WPIAL playoffs for the fourth season in a row, sought its first playoff victory since 2017 when it defeated Thomas Jefferson in the first round before falling to West Allegheny in the quarterfinals.

The Mustangs finished 10-7 overall and went 6-4 in Section 1 play behind undefeated section champion Shaler and runner-up North Hills.

“Being so young, I like the way we were competitive, especially in the games against Shaler and North Hills,” DiLonardo said.

“I wasn’t 100% sure how things were going to work out with so many younger players in the lineup for the first time. The goal was to just go out every game and fight and battle and hope to build on all of the experiences for the future. You hope for the best when you put the lineup together at the start of the year, and they came together very nicely.”

The program will say farewell to third baseman Mackenzie Lang and outfielders Taylor Lorish and Kendall James. All three were key components both defensively and at the plate.

Lorish led the team in hitting at .472 (25 of 53) with 15 runs batted in and 14 runs scored.

Her 25 hits ranked second on the team, and she collected four doubles and two home runs.

Lang, a Pitt-Greensburg commit, batted .455 (20 of 44) with six home runs, 27 RBIs and 13 runs scored. She also reached base with 15 walks.

James drove in eight runs and was second on the team in runs score with 17.

“Those were our tri-captains this year,” DiLonardo said. “They all had a really good years. Mackenzie did her typical thing with hitting home runs, driving in runs and getting on base. She did that for three years. Unfortunately, this was the group that lost their freshman year to the covid pandemic.

“We moved Kendall around. She was at second base last year and we moved her to the outfield. She did a great job there.

“Taylor had a decent year last year, but she really came into her own this year. She was our No. 5 hitter, and she was very productive for us in that spot.

“They also did a nice job with the younger kids and showing them how we do things here. I was very appreciative of their leadership.”

The three seniors were recognized for their efforts this season with inclusion on the Section 1 all-star teams.

Lang and Lorish were selected to the first team at infield and outfield, respectively.

James was tabbed an honorable-mention selection for her play in the outfield.

Others recognized with all-section laurels were sophomore catcher Dani Pici and freshman pitcher Riley Stephans on the second team.

DiLonardo said Pici again showed strong defensive leadership at catcher and also at the plate as she hit three home runs, drove in 22, and batted .455 (25 of 55).

Pici got Plum on the board against Thomas Jefferson with a solo home run to lead off the third inning.

She also drew a walk and scored in a four-run fifth inning to give the Mustangs the lead.

Stephans made her varsity debut this year in a big way.

She hit .435 (27 of 62) and tied Lang with a team-best six home runs and 27 RBIs.

In the pitching circle, she started 14 of Plum’s 17 games and fashioned a 3.79 earned-run average with 92 strikeouts over 77 2/3 innings of work.

She fired a perfect game with nine strikeouts in a 12-0, five-inning victory over Fox Chapel on April 17.

Freshmen Liana Yusko (infield) and Makenzie Marotta (infield) were selected to the honorable-mention team.

Marotta collected 17 RBIs this season.

Junior Madelyn Wagner (first base) and sophomore Bella Tavella (center field) were in the lineup against TJ and will return to help form the Plum varsity core in 2024.

“I expect there will be good competition for spots next year with the three seniors leaving and as we work to find the best lineup,” DiLonardo said.

“There will always be opportunities for the returning girls and some others to step up. I really like what we have coming back. We want to always work to get better and take that next step.”

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


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