East Xtra: As usual, Plum driving for playoff bid

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In Class AAAA Section 3, the color purple stands for control -- as in the purple worn by Plum and Baldwin.

Those two teams control their own destiny in the scramble for a WPIAL playoff berth.

Plum (11-4, 5-2 through Tuesday) is also looking to knock Baldwin (9-1, 6-1) from the top spot in the section standings, but the Mustangs know they are going to need help to do that, having lost to the Highlanders twice already.

"Alex Pantuso pitched well and baffled us both games," Plum coach Carl Vollmer said of Baldwin's ace. "Baseball is like that. Anything can happen and starting pitching is critical."

Most professionals would easily pick Plum to be the section favorite year in and year out, but those familiar with the section knew Baldwin would be a force to be reckoned with this year.

"I think within the section everybody knew they had a lot coming back," said Vollmer, who is in his 10th season as the Mustangs coach. "If you pay close attention to it, then you had an idea that they would be a tough opponent. They built some momentum early in the year. They are playing better now than they were in the beginning of the year."

The same could be said for the Mustangs. Plum has won eight of its past nine games -- the only loss coming against Baldwin -- putting itself in position to contend for the section title. One of the top reasons for the Mustangs' recent spurt was the emergence of their pitching.

"I think we found ourselves pitching-wise," Vollmer said. "We had a lot of guys contribute and step up. We have been able to keep ourselves in games because of that. At the same time we hit in spurts offensively.

"We haven't reached our full potential. I think offensively our potential is pretty high. We are constantly striving to get better so we haven't looked at what we accomplished to this point. Our margin for error is not great. We have to be focused and ready to go on a daily basis."

The Mustangs were a game behind Baldwin in the section standings through Tuesday and have plenty of arms to get them through the final week of the season.

"The interesting thing is we haven't established a rotation," Vollmer said. "We used multiple guys in multiple games. We have games where we have thrown four or five guys and have been successful. We feel comfortable with the guys we have.

"Brandon Hoener is our only senior pitcher. We pitch a lot of games with sophomores and juniors. They should set us up to be fairly competitive for the next few years."

Plum was scheduled to play section rival Central Catholic in a key game Monday.

Offensively, the Mustangs are lead by seniors Nick Stotler, Mike Maleski and Dante Palmieri. Stotler will be attending Division II Coker College in South Carolina next fall. Maleski has been a starter in the infield for the past three seasons for the Mustangs and Palmieri has stepped in at catcher after the starter got hurt at the beginning of the season.

Leading the youth movement are sophomores Alex Kirilloff and Ethan Winesburgh. Kirilloff is a left-handed pitcher who also plays outfield and first base. He has already verbally committed to Division I Liberty University in Virginia. Winesburgh is a starting pitcher and also plays center field.

The youth movement is a big reason why for the eighth year in a row the Mustangs are closing in on qualifying for the WPIAL playoffs. Becauuse of their strong reputation, they often face the opposition's best pitcher.

"We have done a good job against very good pitching," Vollmer said. "We face everybody's top guy. That presents challenges, but that is something we have to embrace. I wouldn't want it any other way. Teams are excited to play against us. We have to match their excitement, intensity and focus.

"The kids in Plum invest themselves in baseball both emotionally and physically. We work hard and it is important in Plum. It is something that we strive for each and every year. I have been fortunate to have good assistant coaches and players."

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