Plum softball team look ahead to promising future after 1st-round loss

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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | 11:01 AM


The Plum softball team has grown to not appreciate the field at Gateway High School, considering a trio of recent playoff fates there.

Three years ago, as the No. 3 seed for the WPIAL Class 5A tournament, the Mustangs were shut out by Fox Chapel.

Last year, in the No. 8 versus No. 9 matchup at Gateway, the Mustangs led Thomas Jefferson, 6-3, heading to the bottom of the seventh before the Jaguars rallied for an 8-6 win.

In the same spot in the Class 5A bracket two weeks ago, Connellsville jumped out to a surprising 6-0 lead after the first inning against the Mustangs.

Plum was not able to rally all the way back in a 9-4 loss.

“The girls were upset with the loss, as is to be expected,” Plum coach Phil DiLonardo said.

“It was a different kind of disappointed feeling compared to last year where it was a last- inning walk-off. The girls did keep fighting to try and come back.”

The deficit grew to 9-0 before Plum scored three in the fifth and one in the sixth.

“After that first inning, I told the girls that we had been there before,” DiLonardo said.

Junior catcher Dani Pici led Plum in the playoff game with a home run and three RBIs, while sophomore left fielder Gia Tavella, junior center fielder Bella Tavella and sophomore Riley Stephans each added two hits.

Gia Tavella doubled with one out in the sixth, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored on a single from Bella Tavella.

Stephans took the loss. Sophomore Mackenzie Marotta relieved Stephans in the first and pitched the rest of the game, giving up six hits and three earned runs.

DiLonardo said his message to the team as the season came to a close was about playing to its potential in every game.

The youthful Mustangs finished 11-7 overall and placed third in Section 1 behind North Hills and Shaler.

“I told them that I didn’t think they had yet reached their full potential, but what was good was that we saw contributions coming from everybody,” DiLonardo said.

“In the past, we would have one or two sometimes carrying the team. This year, it pretty much was a full-blown team effort. To be successful, you have to have the whole team doing it. That was the part of the growth that I saw.

“Coming into next year, it will be interesting to see how they come together and work to reach that potential as people will be looking to the experience we will have.”

DiLonardo said he saw growth in Stephans in the circle from last year as a freshman starting out on varsity to a sophomore with a better idea of what to expect and how to handle game pressures.

She finished the season with a trio of no-hitters on her pitching resume.

“That playoff game wasn’t indicative of how she played and pitched the whole year,” DiLonardo said.

“Stuff happens, and in playoff games, it can be magnified. She knows the hard work it takes to be successful. This year, she settled in, and her confidence grew throughout the season.”

First baseman Madelyn Wagner is the only player who will be lost because of graduation.

“We typically play a couple of tournaments in the fall to get everyone back together and basically see how everyone’s summer went,” DiLonardo said.

“I am excited with this group. A majority will be in either their third year of starting or fourth year. We’re not going to be able to say we’re young anymore. I look forward to seeing them take that next step and work to push through to that next step in the playoffs we can’t seem to get to.”

Plum next season hopes to end a five-game losing streak in the WPIAL playoffs dating back to a win over Thomas Jefferson in the 2018 Class 5A first round.

In a vote of the section coaches, Stephans, Bella Tavella and sophomore infielder Jaiden Gentile were selected to the Section 1 all-star first team.

Earning second-team honors were Pici, sophomore infielder Liana Yusko and freshman designated hitter Brooke Bernosky.

Marotta, who also was at third base in addition to her work in the pitching circle, was selected honorable mention along with Gia Tavella.

“Winning is not easy,” DiLonardo said. “They understand that. If they come back with a positive attitude and work hard, I think next year can be special.”

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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